Anal sac problems. Sledging or scooting: why do dogs rub their bottom along the ground?

Scooting is a common behaviour in dogs (and sometimes in cats). The reason for this is nearly always itchiness of the area under the tail and there are several common reasons, often linked to anal sac problems. Sometimes pets also lick and nibble under the tail – this is just another sign that it’s itchy. So why does it happen?

Some worms emerge from the back passage and this can cause an itchy sensation. All pets should be wormed roughly every 3 months so if this has not been done recently, ask your vet for an effective broad spectrum wormer.

Anal sacs

Dogs and cats have two anal sacs, one on each side, just inside the anus. The sacs produce a strong smelling secretion that is passed whenever the animal passes faeces – the faecal pellet squeezes out the anal sacs as it goes by, emptying them. Several things can go wrong with anal sacs:

Most commonly they can become overfull, or inspissated (filled with dried out secretion so that it becomes more like thick toothpaste than the normal motor-oil type consistency). If this happens, you need to ask your vet to squeeze out the anal sacs: that’s just a case of donning a rubber glove, inserting a digit into the back passage and squeezing the glands in the same way as you’d squeeze a grape to empty it. In some cases of scooting pets, this simple act cures the problem. Sometimes adding extra fibre to the diet can help to prevent the problem recurring, but still, some dogs need to have their anal sacs squeezed out every 3 – 6 months.

Anal sacs can become infected. In this case, when the vet empties them the secretion is obviously purulent or abnormally coloured – this infection causes them to become inflamed and itchy. As well as being squeezed out, the infected sacs need to be treated with antbiotics – usually oral at first, but sometimes they need to be flushed out too. Sometimes a culture needs to be taken, and sometimes the infection is so stubborn that the anal sacs need to be surgically removed.

Perineal itchiness.

Allergies are a common cause of itchiness under the tail. This can be due to environmental allergens (dusts, pollens etc) and also due to dietary allergy. If the sledging problem has not responded to other treatments it can be worth putting a dog on to a special hypoallergenic diet that does not contain ingredients that the dog has experienced before, so that they cannot be allergic to them. Examples include venison and potato, white fish and tapioca, and you can also get special hydrolysed diets that have been predigested so that they do not contain any long chain proteins that can cause allergies.

Parasites. Fleas and mites don’t normally cause itchiness under the tail but it makes sense to check for them

Yeast or bacterial infections. Sometimes if the surface of the skin under the tail gets infected, the production of acids and toxins can cause continual itchiness. Your vet might take samples from this area to check for this and also give trial treatments.

Sometimes itchiness can be part of a vicious circle – something sets up initial itchiness (eg contact with nettles) then dogs start to rub the area, and this just perpetuates the redness and itchiness – and so it goes on. For this reason, vets may recommend general anti-itching treatment – topical creams/sprays and perhaps tablets or injections. Often if the itch is made to go away using medication, it doesn’t come back when the medication is stopped.

Some scooting is normal – dogs sometimes empty their own anal sacs by scooting (foxes do this in the wild sometimes too) so if your pet just does it occasionally, there’s no need to rush to the vet.

Questions from listeners

  1. I have quite a large dog, it’s a Leonberger and he is just finished antibiotics & steroids for something the vets called “hot spot”. I am wondering if this will be a reoccurring problem for him & is there any other treatment we could use besides antibiotics? Clodagh
  2. I have 2 Bengal cats from the same litter, one male, one female. About 18 months old and both fixed. They’ve started fighting a lot recently and wondering if I should be worried or is it just their wild nature. Rick
  3. Pete, is it possible for a beautiful spirited cat to die of stress because a recently acquired dog terrorised it? The cat spent the last few weeks up a tree and is now lying on the sofa , clearly dying , while the dog walks over it . The cat is 2 years old and the dog is about 4/5.
  4. Why don’t vets register ownership details when they chip a dog? Dogs are often found chipped but with no ownership details registered and I just wonder why this is? Also what do you think of the fact that there are several registration databases? It seems to me that the system has great room for improvement.
  5. My miniature schnauzer has lip fold dermatitis. A crust builds up on his lower lips. I have to remove it every 3 or 4 days, and it hurts him, even though I use warm water. Is there a solution to this problem, without surgery? Thanks, Vincent
  6. Our Yorkshire Terrier is 13 and is in very good health, is there anything we should start doing now that she is in her senior years? In terms of exercise, food etc.  I’ve noticed her reactions are not as quick as they once were or her eyesight, as I imagine are to be expected. (I work from home so she’s with me all the time.) Thanks, Paul.

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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.

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