Let’s Talk about Anal Sacs in Dogs

Boot scooting. We’ve all seen our companion dogs do it. Your kids laugh and you are grossed out thinking about all of the bacteria spreading all over your carpet or favorite rug. Even just biting or licking around the bottom can be rather disgusting and is possibly triggered by the same thing. So, why do dogs have the need to scoot or lick and we don’t?

Dogs might be trying to rid their bottoms of dried feces or even parasitic worm infestation, but more than likely it is caused by a common condition known as anal sac disease. Before we get to that, we first need to discuss the location of a dog’s anal sacs. By the way, many of us commonly refer to them as “anal glands”.

Anal Sac Location

Dogs have two anal sacs located just outside the muscles of their rectum. Think of an analog clock with hands. One sac is located at the four o’clock position and the other is at eight o’clock.

Second, we need to discuss the purpose of a dog’s anal sacs.

Purpose of the Anal Sacs

Have you ever noticed a very odiferous smell after your companion dog drags his bottom across the floor and that it does not smell like gas? That is because a dog’s anal sacs are made of sebaceous glands that store a foul-smelling fluid. When expressed or pressured, the fluid is excreted through a small duct that opens inside the anus.

The purpose of the anal sacs is actually quite primal: dogs are marking territory to alert other dogs and animals.

Anal Sac Disease: What is going on?

In addition to boot scooting or biting the anus, other symptoms may be diarrhea, constipation, difficulty pooping, or the bad smell.

So, what is going on?

Impaction occurs when there is not enough pressure to express the sacs, which can cause a painful buildup of the fluid.

Infection of the anal sacs typically occurs because of the impaction. Infections are generally treated with antibiotics.

All of which can lead to abscesses that could burst through the skin. If your dog gets to that point, you should take him to a veterinarian immediately. In fact, if your dog is scooting frequently, that’s a reason to seek out veterinary care anyway.

How can you reduce or minimize the frequency of scooting anal gland expression?

Conventional Methods of Anal Sac Expression

Many companion dog owners are familiar with veterinarians or groomers expressing a dog’s anal glands.

Veterinarians typically use the internal method. Groomers often use the external method. Both techniques are best left to the experts. Don’t try them yourself.

In any event, over dependence on either method can lead to inflammation and/or tissue damage.

How else can you reduce the frequency of bottom scooting without such invasive and potentially damaging tissue?

More Natural Measures to Reduce Bottom Scooting

Increase Soluble Dietary Fiber
You’re thinking, “My dog eats a grain-free diet.” You can add grain-free soluble fiber to your dog’s diet to bulk up his stool. You can try canned pumpkin, carrots or sweet potato. Start off with a small amount for small dogs and work your way up to a tablespoon. For bigger dogs, work up to two tablespoons per day. Be careful, you don’t want to have too much as it could lead to the opposite effect: diarrhea.

Commercial products are available as well – just check online for ‘Anal Gland Supplements’.

Do you notice how we keep talking about pressure on the anal sacs? That’s because if you bulk up the stool, it puts pressure on the glands to express naturally.

Change Type of Diet
If you talk to companion pet parents who feed raw, homemade, canned or dehydrated (reconstituted before serving), many of them will tell you that the stool size of their pets decreased and became harder. No, their dogs are not dehydrated or constipated. In fact, these types of foods are moisture-rich and may apply more pressure to express the glands.

Other Ideas

  • Apply warm compress on, or run warm water over, rectum
  • Exercise
  • Add probiotics (discuss with your veterinarian first)

OK, are you saying, “Dr. Dodds, I’ve tried everything on your list thus far and nothing has worked”?

In that instance, we recognize there could be another condition that is causing anal sac disease or the scooting.

Conditions Causing Scooting

References

Hunter, Tammy, and Ernest Ward. Anal Sac Disease in Dogs. VCA Animal Hospitals, https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/anal-sac-disease-in-dogs.

Nicholas, Jason. Anal Glands – Why Dogs Have Them & What To Do When They’re A Problem. Preventive Vet, 13 Nov. 2016, https://www.preventivevet.com/dogs/anal-glands-what-to-do-when-they-are-a-problem.

 

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