Many pets are presented to us with the complaint of “scooting” their bottoms on the floor. There are many possible reasons for this, but the most common one is caused by inflammation of the anal sacs. The anal sacs or anal glands are paired glands located around the rectum at the 4:00 and 8:00 positions of a clock face. The glands are sandwiched inside the muscles of the anal sphincter and cannot be seen from the exterior of the pet. Each gland has a small opening into the anal area. The glands create a very noxious smelling substance that is used by pets to mark their territory.

The pet may empty the anal glands voluntarily or, in times of excitement, they may empty spontaneously. In general, the anal gland secretions have a very long lasting “fishy” odor. These secretions take on different consistencies from pet to pet. In some animals, they are very liquid in substance, while in others; they can become thick and pasty.

Why is my pet scooting?

If the opening to the gland gets clogged, or the secretions get too thick to pass readily through the openings, pressure may build up in the glands. This pressure may be itchy, painful or both. The pet will frequently scoot their bottom in an attempt to empty the gland.

Is an impacted gland dangerous?

Anal sacs live right near the rectum and so are exposed to the bacteria in the feces on a constant basis. If the opening to the gland clogs up, bacteria can become trapped in the gland and cause an abscess to form. These abscesses are generally quite painful and the pet will not only scoot the rectum on the floor, but will usually try to lick the area on a constant basis. Frequently, the abscessed gland will rupture at a spot near the rectum. When it does so, a mixture of blood, pus and anal sac material will start to drain out.

What should I do if my pet is scooting?

A trained veterinarian or veterinary technician can clean out the anal sacs. In order to do this properly, a gloved, lubricated finger must be inserted in the rectum in order to grasp the anal gland from both sides. Pressure is applied until the anal gland secretions are forced through the opening. Care must be taken not to rupture the gland during this procedure. Frequently, the pet must be sedated or anesthetized to accomplish this task. If the gland opening cannot be cleared in this fashion, the pet must be anesthetized and an attempt to flush open the gland is made.

Some pets will have this problem on a recurring basis. Sometimes, we can help prevent recurrence by infusing the gland with an antibiotic/steroid ointment. In addition, antibiotics and/or cortisone may be given to help reduce the pain and inflammation in the region.

If a pet has this problem regularly, or the glands cannot be cleaned out, they can be removed surgically to eliminate the problem all together. Recently, we have been utilizing a laser scalpel to facilitate this surgery with great success. Removal of the glands has a small incidence of complications (about 10%), which include: Infection in the region or partial or complete loss of sphincter control. In most cases, any loss of sphincter control will be temporary.

How do we treat anal gland abscesses?

When the anal gland abscesses, it is best treated by surgery. The abscessed gland usually ruptures and spreads infection into the surrounding tissue. With surgical treatment, we can open up the abscess and establish drainage for the infection to come to the outside of the body. At the same time, we can get a sample of the bacteria in the wound to send to the lab for a culture and sensitivity test, which will help us, determine the correct antibiotic therapy. Usually, a plastic drain is placed to permit any pus to continue to drain out for a number of days post operatively. Antibiotics are administered by injection before surgery and are continued for 7 to 14 days post op. Most pets require an Elizabethan collar after surgery to prevent them from licking the wound or pulling out the drain or sutures.

Are there other problems with the anal glands?

Anal glands may develop tumors in them. When they do, they can be either malignant (will spread into other parts of the body) or benign (stay in one place). When tumors arise in the anal sacs, they can be difficult to distinguish from anal sac abscesses. In fact, it is possible to get both at the same time. If there is any suspicion at the time of surgery, a biopsy should be sent to the laboratory.

If your pet is licking his/her rectum or scooting the bottom on the floor, you should be suspicious of anal sac problems. At Alta Rancho Pet Hospital, we recommend that you bring your pet in at the first sign of these symptoms so that we may be able to prevent an anal gland abscess and/or diagnose any other reason for the problem.