“I remember asking my mom as a child why my beloved dog Linka was scooting across the floor, and often on the grass outside. She looked really uncomfortable. “Probably worms” my mom would say and off she’d go to the vet for some medication. With more investigation, I’ve learnt that worms are almost never the cause of this problem.” Helena Swart, founder of Raw Love Pets
Scooting in dogs (some cats also do it) is mostly due to enlarged anal sacs (or anal glands) that will not empty naturally. Besides scooting, pets with anal sac problems will often also spend a lot of time licking the area under their tail.
What are Anal Sacs?
Anal sacs are small pea-sized pockets located between the internal and external anal sphincter muscles, one on each side of the anus at the 4 and 8 o’clock position (sphincters are the muscles that allow the dog to keep stool in the rectum until it is time to pass). These sacs are found in a variety of animals, including all members of the canid family (i.e. wolves and dogs) but most notably in the skunk family.
Having said that, one begins to understand that anal glands are scent glands – they are located around the anus or rectum area. Each sac is lined with abundant sebaceous (oil) glands and numerous apocrine (sweat) glands which produce a strong-smelling, oily secretion. The anal sacs store this secretion for territory marking. The anal sacs empty through 2 short and narrow ducts to the surface located on either side of the dog’s anus. When the anus is stretched as stool is passed, the sphincter muscles squeeze the anal sacs and force the contents onto the surface of the stool. When dogs greet each other with familiar sniffing, the secretion from the anal glands is what they smell.
Anal sacs vary in size based on the breed of dog. Obviously, a St. Bernard will have larger anal sacs than a Pomeranian, but generally healthy anal sacs range in size from a pea to a kidney bean. Problems occur when the sacs get too full and impacted. If the contents of the anal sacs are not emptied on a regular basis during the act of passing stool, the anal sacs stop producing the normally liquid contents, and start producing a rather thick, semi-solid material which is much more prone to impacting the sac due to the sacs’ inability to pass this semi-solid material through the narrow duct to the outside.
The impacted glands can cause discomfort or worse they can get infected, cause pain and inflammation and even result in an abscess. The abscessed anal sac may need surgery to provide drainage and curettage of the damaged and infected sac and surrounding tissue. Antibiotics are normally prescribed in abscessed anal sac disease. If the abscess is left untreated, a tract usually forms between the gland and the skin. This may close, re-abscess and continue along this cycle until proper treatment is sought. Fluid from a normal anal sac does NOT have a pleasant smell, but if infected the smell can be overwhelmingly bad. Mostly it is this smell that results in carers seeking out remedies to address the problem.
What Do Anal Sacs Do?
There are a number of theories why dogs, cats, skunks, and other mammals have anal sacs and what possible use they may have. One theory states that anal sac contents, when excreted with the passing stool or by anal sphincter muscle contraction, act as a powerful territorial scent marker or as a communication medium between dogs and cats. Skunks certainly use the secretion for defence!
Another theory states that the anal sac secretion lubricates hard stool, which makes passage easier. Humans do not have anal sacs. Some humans do get haemorrhoids which are dilated, irritated blood vessels at the anus; luckily, dogs do not get haemorrhoids.
Causes of impaction or Anal Sac disorders
There are no predictable indicators to painful anal sac disorders or impaction of the sacs. Some dogs may be born with very narrow channels that lead from the sacs to the edge of the anus, which will obstruct the usual flow of anal sac material. Acquired damage to the duct can occur when perianal infections, trauma, allergies and inflammation compress or obstruct the narrow channel leading from the sac to the surface. Some dogs without cause simply produce a thick or dry material from the sac lining which makes passage of the material through the narrow ducts impossible. Anal sphincter muscles can become dysfunctional, thereby not properly compressing the anal sac glands; and hyper-secretion from the anal sac lining obstructing or constricting the anal sac ducts all may cause anal sac problems.
Normally a bowel movement is sufficient to express the sacs. However, if the animal is sick, i.e. with loose stool or diarrhoea, the sacs do not get emptied as they normally would. Intestinal parasites such as hookworms or whipworms cause chronically loose stools. Skin infections and seborrhea (an inflammatory skin disorder that causes a red, itchy rash and white scales on oily areas) may delay sac emptying as well.
There is no age or sex predisposition to anal sac problems. It is uncommon in large breeds, but infections and impactions are often experienced by small breeds such as Toy and Miniature Poodles, Chihuahuas, and Lhasa Apsos. Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds, and Beagles also rank high on the list of breeds affected by anal sac difficulties. Overweight animals have less muscle tone and sometimes additional fat tissue in the way of proper emptying of the sacs.
Inappropriate nutrition (e.g. most kibble products, overly rich foods, or spiced, barbecued or marinated foods) or dietary changes that cause a temporarily looser stool than normal can also be a cause. Some vets, groomers and animal health care workers believe feeding a natural, raw, and biologically appropriate diet rich in natural fibre, aids in emptying the sacs. The pressure of the firm stool against the colon wall near the anus may help to express the anal sac contents. Dogs that have an existing problem such as infection or obstructed ducts, though, may not respond to simple dietary changes and the glands might first have to be expressed manually.
If left untreated, anal sac impactions, infections and abscesses can be a reoccurring nuisance for your dog so be proactive about an evaluation if your dog displays any discomfort in the tail or anal region.
Anal Gland Remedies
Expressing the glands
There is a difference of opinion regarding routine expressing of the anal sacs. For example, veterinarian Mark Thompson in his presentation about anal sacs in Current Veterinary Therapy XIII, suggests routine manual expressing of the anal sacs should not be done in a normal animal with no anal sac issues. Many groomers make it a matter of routine, though, to express the anal sacs of their dogs.
“Do-it-yourself-anal-sac-expressing” can be done at home – please make sure your veterinarian has instructed you or watched you do it at least once before trying it at home.
How to Clean Your Pet’s Glands:
Enlist the help of another person to help hold the pet and make sure that you both change into some old clothing and wear some disposable gloves. Use an old blanket or sheet to lie underneath the animal as the material that is removed from the anal glands will be smelly and can cause stains on carpets etc. Clip away any long hair beneath the tail so that you can see what you’re doing. With one hand, lift the tail way up over the animal’s back so that you can expose the glands (these will be located at 5 and 7 o’clock positions on the anus). You will be able to feel if they are full. The ducts that will actually empty the glands are located a little bit higher at 4 and 8 o’clock. In a milking type fashion, use your thumb and forefinger to squeeze the glands in a C-shaped sweeping movement. The fluid will probably be a dark brown to clear colour, however if it is yellow or blood tinted, it is likely that your pet has an infection and should see a veterinarian immediately. After you have finished, sooth your pet’s anal area by applying a warm, wet cloth to it. Once the cloth cools, warm it again with water and repeat the process for at least ten minutes at a time, three times per day.
In an effort to eliminate problems of impacted glands, or preventing the problem from occurring in the first place, there are a few changes that you can make to your pet’s regular diet. Increase their fibre intake by adding a fibre supplement to the food. Offering your pet a raw, natural diet containing fresh vegetables such as carrots, cabbage or celery may also provide sufficient fibre to address the problem. However, you should be aware that increasing the fibre in your pets daily diet will in addition to helping them express or clear their anal glands, also increase the size of their droppings.
Coconut and coconut oil, pureed pumpkin and Epsom salt baths to extract the fluid are cited by many to be effective natural remedies for anal sac problem. We found this feedback on www.earthclinic.com:
PUMPKIN, COCONUT OIL, EPSOM SALT BATHS
[YEA] 09/07/2010: Gwen from Boulder/Denver, Colorado, USA: “I’ve dealt with anal gland issues in cats & dogs. I have a little puppy mill dog & we don’t know what she is, but is a dog that looks like a cat & licks herself like a long haired kitty. Pumpkin works great for releasing hair balls. She sometimes pucks them or pass it in her stool. Hence the AG (anal gland) problem I think.
I also add coconut oil & coconut flakes for AG abscesses. Coconut oil & flakes also guards against all kinds of ailments, tumors, arthritis, tooth problems & so forth. Check the coconut oil remedies section on EC (“Earth Clinic”) for people & what you find will also work for your animals! Remember you are working with natural/pure substances, so it is very hard to over dose. Just get close in measurements which a lot of people will post dosages they use. Using common sense should be enough & because it is a natural substance, the most you might have to deal with would be diarrhea if you use too much. Then lower the dosage.
I wanted to add, if you are dealing with an abscess, there are other things you can do. I will put my pet in a spitz bath of Epsom salts to start drawing the infection out & soaking in the warm water brings them relief. Once again check the abscess section on EC for people. Adding Turmeric to food also is a good idea if it is a chronic problem. I picked up a great tip there about telling the difference between boil, abscess, zit, ingrown hair duct, etc. Just put a cotton ball soaked in peroxide. If a boil, it won’t do anything, but abscess, or zit or such, it will bring it to a head & drain the pus or infection in the area. I keep peroxide soak going for about 20-30 minutes. By the time I remove the soaked cotton, it will usually drain the infection immediately, or let you know what you are dealing with! Depending on size & length of infection, I may have to add another 20-30 minute soak before it drains, but it will drain & black colored abscesses will turn back to white/natural color. You could also make solution of peroxide, & Epsom in warm water & keep applying with a cloth, if they will let you because it is very painful for them. I like the idea of sea salt solution injection to kill infection, but I would think you would want swelling down before trying to administer. Ouch! Good luck & Many Blessing to You & Your Little Ones!
P.S. Some cures for people are posted in the animal section not posted for people & vise-a-versa. Use common sense as Mother Earth has given us everything we need to heal!”
Medication and surgery
Some cases respond to infusion of the sacs with antibiotics in addition to oral medication. In chronic cases, careful surgical removal of the anal sacs can be done. When done correctly, the surgery causes no ill effects and the dog never has another annoying bout of anal sac disease.
Food for Thought
Next time you see a dog or cat scoot or lick the area, you’ll know it might not actually be worms but rather them telling you it’s time to clean them sacs! Switching to a raw and natural diet has been known to actually prevent the re-occurrence of any anal sac problems – ready to make the transition to raw yet?
Read here on how to make the switch to a biologically appropriate diet for your pets.