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Anal Glands can be a Pain in the Butt!

Get down, go to town, and do the Butt Scootin’ Boogie. I don’t think this is quite the title of the Brooks and Dunn country-western classic, but, (no pun intended) it is appropriate for this discussion about the question we frequently hear in our veterinary practice: “Doc, why is my dog scooting, and dragging his butt? Does he have worms?”

When our canine friends are exhibiting this “dancing” behavior (thank goodness this dance has never been popular with people, not even in the ’70s), oftentimes it is due to their anal sacs being impacted. In other words, these sac-like structures are full of an oily to thick material that has a very pungent and distinct odor. When this happens, it is irritating, and your furry dancing friend does the butt shuffle.

Anal sac/glands are paired and located at about the four o’clock and eight o’clock position if you are looking directly at your dog’s anus. Don’t get too close! They are essentially equivalent to the scent glands on skunks. They are there to act as a scent marker for territory and typically when a dog or cat has a bowel movement, some of the oily malodorous (at least to us) material is excreted through a small duct with the movement. They can also act as the greeting card for other dogs. Hence, the dog sniffing another’s backside when they meet each other. I am glad we just typically shake hands.

If the duct becomes inflamed, or if the anal sac becomes infected, there is irritation and your dog or cat may lick at their anal area excessively, may exhibit discomfort when having a bowel movement, or may do the “Boogie.” Sometimes you may notice a bloody discharge from the anus or an open draining sore just adjacent to the anus. If your dog or cat is experiencing these symptoms or the desire to leave “skid marks” across your carpet, you should visit your veterinarian. They will likely do a rectal exam with a gloved finger and, from inside the anus, express the sacs. You can also imagine the expression on their face during this procedure. Not always the most glamorous part of our profession. If the sacs are infected, antibiotics will be administered. Sometimes anti-inflammatory medications or pain medications are dispensed.

If the problem is chronic or severe, the anal sacs/gland can be surgically removed. Your veterinarian can discuss this procedure in more detail with you.

One common misconception is that “my dog or cat may have pinworms.” NO! Our canine and feline companions do not get pinworms. These occur in primates and horses. On rare occasions, segments from tapeworms (which appear like moving grains of white rice, yummy thought) can be seen around the anus and may cause some irritation and scooting. Additionally, if there are tapeworms, there may be an issue with fleas since the most common tapeworm has an intermediate host of the flea. Another reason to make sure your pet is on flea prevention.

So, the next time your pet decides to do some butt break-dancing, or the Butt Shuffle, you now know it is not just their love of entertaining you, but (there is that word again) likely anal sac/gland irritation and they are likely to get their Christmas Goose earlier than expected this year.

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