Modern Medicine, Old-Fashioned Care

Dec 7, 2022 | General Health

Why is My Dog Scooting on the Carpet – and What Can I Do to Stop It?

Why is your dog scooting on the carpet? It’s a common question at Doylestown Veterinary Hospital and a common occurrence in many homes.

But if your pet is particularly itchy, and you want to avoid a floor show whenever guests arrive, it may be best to seek veterinary assistance.

According to Doylestown’s Dr. Lois Palin, some of the top reasons for scooting include:

  • Intestinal parasites
  • Food sensitivities or allergies
  • Atopic dermatitis or environmental allergies

But far and away, the primary culprit is most frequently anal sac problems.

“Most people refer to anal sacs as anal glands,” Dr. Palin says. “These are scent glands that are located on either side of a dog or cat’s anus. Technically, the correct term is anal sac. The glands are within the sac.”

When a dog or cat has a bowel movement, pressure is applied to these glands, which secretes a small amount of fluid that is used for scent marking and identification purposes.

“Really, these little sacs are not something we should ever have to be worried about,” Dr. Palin adds. “But we do – and pretty frequently for some dogs.”

Problems with anal glands affect dogs more frequently, Dr. Palin says, and tend to reoccur in smaller breeds – though any dog or cat can certainly experience issues.

Signs your pet could be experiencing anal sac problems include:

  • Scooting
  • Licking or biting at their hindquarters
  • Difficulty having a bowel movement
  • Discoloration of the fur underneath the tail area (this is particularly noticeable in light-colored dogs)
  • Crying out in pain for no apparent reason
  • Walking in circles, chasing after their hindquarters, posturing strangely
  • Some swelling or redness near the anus

When pet parents bring their dogs in for scooting concerns, impaction of the anal sac is most often the cause.

“Normally the secretion inside the anal sac goes through a little duct and just empties into the edge of the rectum,” Dr. Palin explains. “But if that little duct becomes blocked or inflamed, the secretion can’t be emptied, and it starts to turn into a thick sort of paste instead of a liquid. The gland begins to fill up and stretch, and it becomes very uncomfortable. That’s usually when you’re going to start seeing that your pet is scooting to relieve that discomfort and pressure.”

Sometimes, she adds, the scooting does the trick – the pressure is relieved, and the problem is solved.

However, if your pet continues to scoot obsessively, or shows other signs of discomfort – a call to the vet is in order.

“Hopefully, if there’s an impaction, we can remove that blockage and get things moving again,” she says.

However, if an anal gland remains impacted, a dog or cat can develop an abscess.

“When this happens, the bacterial infection looks for a new path to empty itself other than the gland, and we see a little hole break open on the dog’s backside,” Dr. Palin explains. “You’re going to start seeing a bloody, oozing secretion and that certainly needs to be addressed by your veterinarian. Treatment usually involves some sedation because it’s painful, and then flushing that area with antiseptic solutions. We’ll frequently put the dog on antibiotics and pain medications.”

Another common anal sac ailment – though rare – is the development of tumors.

“This is something that would need to be diagnosed. The same symptoms would be present – with a dog appearing uncomfortable, scooting, and straining to defecate. And that’s something that would be addressed surgically.”

If your dog scooting on the carpet starts to become a daily concern, talk to your family veterinarian. If your pet is not able to find relief with initial scratching, anal sac problems are not something pet parents are going to be able to manage at home, either.

That being said, there are some preventive measures that pet parents can implement today:

  • Provide a good diet: Choose high-quality food with adequate fiber to keep bowel movements regular. “That’s the way Mother Nature intends for your pet’s anal sacs to be emptied,” Dr. Palin says.
  • Prioritize weight management: “This is very important with dogs and cats,” Dr. Palin says. “Obesity causes anal sacs to become surrounded by fatty tissue, which mechanically makes it more difficult for our pets to empty them out. Exercise, proper diet, and limiting treats to manage weight are key.”
  • Ask about supplements: Occasionally, your vet may recommend supplementing a diet with fiber to increase the bulk of your pet’s bowel movements. This will help the dog empty its anal sacs on its own. “This is something that should be guided by a veterinarian, though,” Dr. Palin says. “Owners shouldn’t add a lot of fiber to a dog’s diet without talking to a veterinarian first.”
  • Address allergies: Food sensitivities and allergies can cause inflammation, which can lead to anal sac problems. Having your veterinarian address these concerns will be helpful.
  • Trust Mother Nature: In the past, pet parents would schedule routine veterinary or grooming appointments to have their pets’ anal glands expressed. But this is no longer recommended. “Years ago, that used to be the case. But Mother Nature should really take care of this. We don’t want to be emptying anal glands regularly. Only if there is a problem.”

A dog scooting on the carpet can be frustrating, embarrassing, and, of course, worrisome. But with proper veterinary care, your dog and your family can put these problems in the rearview.