Why does my dog scoot his bottom on the floor?
“Scooting” is one of the more common reasons we see dogs in the consulting room! Essentially, it’s a symptom that the dog has an itchy or uncomfortable bottom, and they try to rub it by scraping it along the floor. If you’ve never seen it, it looks like he’s crawling along the ground while staying in a sitting position.
There are three common causes of scooting - local irritation, worms, and full anal glands. Rarer causes include rectal prolapses (where the rectum sticks out of the bottom - it looks like severe haemorrhoids), anal tumours and some spinal lesions.
Anything that makes your dog’s bottom itchy will make them want to scratch it! Typical causes are allergic skin disease (where they’re itchy all over, and at that particular moment it happens to be the bottom that’s worst), and dirty backsides (usually when they’ve had diarrhoea and there are lumps of faeces stuck to the hair). If your dog has allergic skin diseases, they’ll itch all over, so get them seen by one of our vets so we can start treatment or management. Dirty bottoms are easily treated - clean the area with soap and water, while wearing gloves. If you don’t feel able to do it yourself, make an appointment and one of our nurses can help!
Some types of worm (especially tapeworms) are very irritating to the anus. This is usually a result of tapeworm segments (or “proglottids”) wriggling their way out to spread eggs into the environment. Fortunately, modern wormers are very effective against tapeworms (but beware over-the-counter products from pet shops and supermarkets - they often have no effect on tapeworms, and only target roundworms). If you think your dog may have worms, give us a ring and we can recommend a suitable, safe and effective product for them.
Anal Gland problems
This is the most common reason for dogs to be scooting. The anal glands (or, more properly, anal sacs) are a pair of glands just inside the anus, positioned at about 4 and 8 o’clock. Their purpose is to exude a strong-smelling secretion onto the dog’s faeces, giving them a characteristic scent so that other dogs will know whose faeces it is they’re sniffing.
Sometimes, however, the glands fail to empty properly. This is often due to mild diarrhoea or unusually soft faces - the soft faecal matter doesn’t squeeze the glands out normally, so the secretion builds up. This is uncomfortable for the dog, but the trouble is, once the glands reach a certain level of fullness, they cannot empty themselves, so they get fuller and fuller, and more and more painful. This is known as impacted anal glands. Fortunately, this condition can easily be treated by your vet - we put a finger in the dog’s bottom and gently squeeze the glands out to empty them (do not try this at home!).
There are occasions, however, when we can’t empty them - if they are so painful, or so swollen, that the contents won’t come out. This is often due to bacteria invading the swollen, overfull glands, causing infected anal glands; in these cases, a course of antibiotics and/or anti-inflammatories and painkillers is usually enough to allow us to empty the affected glands.
Most dogs develop anal gland problems at some point in their life, and in most cases, once the glands are emptied, they’re fine and everything goes back to normal. Sometimes, however, dogs are unusually susceptible to anal gland impaction, and it keeps happening over and over again. These susceptible dogs may have slightly different shaped glands, making them harder to empty naturally, or perhaps they make a thicker or more sticky secretion - we don’t know. However, the problem can often be mitigated by altering the fibre in your dog’s diet. There are a number of different methods, but the simplest is probably to use a veterinary fibre supplement added to the food. This bulks out the faeces, making them more efficient at squeezing out the glands.
Very occasionally, we see dogs where this isn’t enough, and who keep being seen for anal gland impactions and/or infections. In these dogs, it is possible to surgically remove the anal glands, but we wouldn’t usually do it unless the other options had failed, as it’s a pretty invasive procedure.