It's quite common for a dog to scoot its butt on the ground, trying to rub hard on the floor. The dog may also suddenly begin to lick it's rear end obsessively. Or there might be an abnormal and horrible smell coming from your dog's rear end. Any of these behaviors could be a sign of an issue with the dog's anal glands and the need to express them.
Why Do Dogs Have Anal Gland Problems?
The anal glands, technically called anal sacs, are two small pouches of tissue located on either side of a dog's anus within the anal sphincter. Anal glands collect oily secretions from sebaceous glands inside the sacs. The fluid inside the anal glands is oily and foul smelling. Anal glands are not a necessary part of the modern dog's anatomy, but they do act as scent glands, similar to that of a skunk and may be emptied by the dog during times of distress. When full, these glands may range in size from that of a pea to that of a small grape. The size varies based on the size of the dog and the fullness of the glands.
When anal glands are full, it's very uncomfortable for the dog. They may scoot on their butts or lick and chew obsessively in an attempt to ease their discomfort from the full sacs. Though these behaviors may also indicate the presence of worms or skin problems, a dog scooting on its rear is typically doing it because of its anal glands. Not only is your dog uncomfortable, but the behavior can leave marks on your floors or rugs, can be unpleasant to watch, and should be addressed as soon as possible.
The fluid in anal glands is routinely released during defecation and may aid in lubrication. A problem may arise when the material in anal glands is not always naturally released as it should be. This may be due to soft stool, or simply because of the specific dog's anatomy. For this reason, it is sometimes necessary for a dog's anal glands to be manually expressed by a human.
The best way to get your dog to stop scooting its butt on the floor is to ease their discomfort by expressing anal glands. Manually expressing anal glands is best taught in person. Any dog owner can learn to do this at home. Most choose to leave it to the professionals due to its unpleasantness. There are two ways to express the anal sacs: externally and internally. Remember, before attempting to express anal sacs, it is best to have a professional, such as a vet tech, show you how. An improper expression can be very uncomfortable for your dog.
The external expression is done by using a tissue or cloth to gently squeeze the anal area from the outside and massage out the fluid. It is usually not possible to completely empty the anal glands this way.
An internal expression is done by inserting a gloved index finger into the anus and gently squeezing each anal sac (one at a time) between the index finger and thumb. The internal method is more effective, especially if the material in the anal sacs is thick. Since this is somewhat invasive, you'll want some help in keeping your dog distracted and calm during the process.
How to Prevent Anal Gland Problems
In general, a dog's anal glands do not need to be manually expressed unless there is a problem. Many dogs are able to release the fluid regularly during bowel movements.
In some cases, anal glands can become compacted and/or infected (abscessed). This is usually due to a long-term inability to empty the anal sacs during normal defecation. If the anal area becomes reddened or a wound is seen around the anus, it may be a problem with the anal sacs. Other potential but less common anal gland complications include tumors, both benign and malignant. See your veterinarian right away if your dog has ongoing issues with the anal glands.
If your dog is continually scooting, it may be because of recurrent anal gland issues. A common cause of this is a food allergy or intolerance. The anal sacs only empty when they get firm pressure from a solid bowel movement. If the dog's bowel movement is frequently unformed, soft, or watery, the anal sacs will not receive the pressure they need to empty. Speak with your veterinarian about elimination diets or to create a balanced and appropriate diet that address any potential food sensitivities and will impact the poor stool consistency.
Finally, some dogs may have naturally occurring and poorly positioned glands. They could be located very deep in the rectum. If the dog's glands aren't in the right position (near where the greatest amount of pressure occurs), they will not express properly. If this seems to be a constant source of problems for the dog, it can only be corrected by surgery.