Why Dogs Drag Their Butts: Anal Gland Disease, Anal Pruritus, Etc.
Picture this heartwarming image in your mind: A Thanksgiving Day feast with the whole family sitting around a large table overflowing with a bounty of delicious and scrumptious foods. Dad is there at the head of the table reverently preparing to carve the succulent, perfectly-cooked, plump and juicy turkey. Grandma and grandpa are there, as well as brother-in-law Joe and his family from Alabama. And just as this Norman Rockwell-moment is about to reach its blissful conclusion, sweet little Fifi, the family’s slightly obese apricot poodle comes scooching by, in plain sight of everyone, dragging her nasty butt on the dining room carpet.
Discussing the topic of anal pruritus (Pruritus ani is the medical term for having an itchy butt hole) can be a little bit embarrassing. That having been said, it’s still an important aspect of your pet’s health, and if there is a problem, a visit to your veterinarian is in order. Most of the time, the problem is uneventful; on rare occasions, anal itching can be a sign of potentially life-threatening disease.
Hands down, the most common problem I see with regards to a dog’s (and occasionally the cat’s) itchy rear end is anal gland disease in all of its various forms. For owners who are not familiar with anal glands, here is a short description. Dogs, cats, and skunks have two structures in their anus called anal glands. And what they are, are scent glands. Located at 4:00 o’clock and 8:00 o’clock within the muscles of the anal sphincter, what is supposed to normally happen is that when the dog poops, as their feces pass through the anus it squishes theses glands which then empty their, pungent, musky-smelling, contents on to the dog’s poop. This glandular secretion represents the dog’s unique smell. It is this smell that other dogs are trying to distinguish when the sniff each other’s butts or crap. The normal condition of anal glands is empty. When anal glands fill up to full capacity, they hurt the dog like a tooth ache!
This leads to the most common cause of itchy butts: Anal Sac Impaction. With anal sac impaction, FOR REASONS UNKNOWN, the dog’s anal glands don’t empty like they are suppose to. Dogs with impacted anal glands will drag their butts (known as “Scooting”), rub their rear ends against trees and door jams, and generally seem to look back at and appear anxious about their back sides. Sometimes, and quite most commonly, the only symptom the owner notices is their poor dog “just don’t act right”. I get that last symptom a lot! They sometimes will also chew and mutilate their tail heads, crotch, or area around the anus.
The cure for anal sac impaction is to just have the sacs emptied by your veterinarian. It may be the only time it may need to be done in the dog’s life; it may need to be done monthly. My personal rule-of-thumb is that if the anal sacs have to be emptied (the medical term is expressed) less than monthly, then the owner should consider having the glands removed. Although it is not a bonding experience between you or your pet, I have also taught owners to empty their dog’s anal glands.
Before I proceed, clients usually ask me what they can do to help prevent impacted anal glands. The answer to this question is that there is NO Answer. The cause has been blamed on everything from being over weight to lack of exercise to the phases of the moon to the Clinton administration. There are a lot of claims to curing this problem, but I’ve found none to work with any reliability.
Closely related to anal sac impaction is Anal Sacculitis. This is a condition where the anal glands become inflamed and are very often infected. This is a very painful problem for your dog and needs to be attended to medically by your veterinarian. Most of the time they respond well to simple antibiotic therapy. Again, THIS CONDITION MUST BE TREATED. If it isn’t, it can lead to anal gland rupture!. These are pus-filled, draining tracts to the outside skin in the region below the dog’s butt hole.
Finally, with regards to the various types of anal gland diseases, is Anal Gland Cancer. Known medically as apocrine gland adenocarcinomas, these tumors are a very serious problem that cannot wait to be taken care of. These tumors tend to be quite aggressive and often the outcome is not good. Besides the usual symptoms of itching or scooting, other signs you may see are difficulty in pooping, and in advanced cases, signs of drinking lots of water and peeing.
Other problems that cause your pet to constantly have itchy butts are bacterial, fungal, or parasitic skin infections (dermatitis) and their very close cousin, skin allergies (I see this a lot!) This problem is sometimes difficult to diagnose precisely. But what I tell my clients is that if the dog or cat is itching all over, licking their feet obsessively, or are constantly shaking their heads and having ear infections, than dermatitis must be included as a possible reason for the pet’s itchy butt.
Other causes of anal pruritus that are closely related to dermatitis are having worms and fleas. For reasons that have always completely baffled me, having worms is the first reason that owners seem to think of when they see their dog scooting or itching his or her butt. In my experience, as it pertains to itchy rear ends, worms are very uncommon. That having been said, routine worming with a worming product recommended and dispensed by a veterinarian should be part of your pet’s larger overall health care history.
Fleas, on the other hand, are quite common. For reasons known only to the flea, these pesky little critters love the area around the dog’s anus. Maybe they like the flavor. Treat the pet for fleas, and if the dog stops itching their butt, then that’s likely the problem. My preferred treatment for fleas is a product known as Advantage, or its close cousin, Advantix.
The other causes of itchy rear ends in dogs and cats are not all that common, but include constipation, bee stings, bug bites, a bone stuck in the butt hole, etc. Sometimes we veterinarians can’t find any obvious problem. Sometimes, it turns out that dogs just like to lick and itch their butts!