Veterinary Q & A: Anal Sacs

Written at: vetmedicine.about.com

DogScootingWhy does my dog scoot across the carpet? She is fine otherwise…

A pet “scooting”, or dragging the hind end on the carpet, grass, or your favorite rug is something most pet owners have witnessed at one time or another. More common in mid to smaller sized dogs, but occasionally seen in larger dogs or cats. Why? Well, most often is it because their anal sacs are bothering them. This does not rule out the possibility of other causes — perianal tumor that is infected or bothersome, diarrhea, parasites, etc. but most often, it is an inflammation, infection, or impaction of the anal sacs.

What are anal sacs, anyway?
Anal sacs collect the oily secretion of the glandular tissue that lines the sacs. The sacs are located between the external and internal muscular rings of the anus. Viewed from behind, the sacs would sit at approximately 8 o’clock and 4 o’clock below the anus. Here is an excellent animation detailing the location of the anal sacs.

What purpose do they serve?
The sacs secrete an oily substance that is thought by many to be a means of territorial marking or communication between dogs and cats. The exact “purpose” isn’t known for sure. Skunks also have this type of gland, and they use the secretion for defense! (phew)

What happens to the anal sacs to make a pet want to scoot?
There are several answers to this question. Inflammation (irritation), infection, impaction (plugged up with thick or gritty secretion) and even tumors in the sacs can cause the discomfort leading to the scooting behavior. Cats most commonly suffer from impaction.

How are the sacs emptied?
Normally a bowel movement is sufficient to express the sacs. However, if the animal is sick, i.e. with loose stool or diarrhea, the sacs to not get emptied as they normally would. Dietary changes that cause a temporarily looser stool than normal can also be a cause. Animals that are overweight have less muscle tone and sometimes additional fat tissue in the way of proper emptying of the sacs. Skin infections and seborrhea can delay sac emptying as well.

My animal is scooting – what should I do?
The first thing to do is to make an appointment with your vet. Some animals may get the anal sacs emptied by scooting, grooming themselves, etc., but left untreated, a simple irritation can lead to infection, impaction, and ultimately abscessation and rupture! Better safe than sorry. Anal sac infections are very painful for the pet, and more difficult/uncomfortable to treat in later stages.

How are anal sacs emptied?
There are basically two methods — external and internal anal sac expression. External expression is simply pushing gently on the skin over the sacs in an upward motion to empty the contents of the sacs (make sure to have a tissue at the ready!) Internal expression requires a latex glove and inserting your index finger just inside the anal sphincter to aid in pushing out the contents of the sac. This method is best left to your veterinarian to show you the proper technique!

How often do the sacs need to be emptied?
In the best case, never. They should take care of themselves. Your pet’s mileage may vary, however, as some pets have recurrent problems with anal sacs not emptying properly. Routine emptying when not necessary is not recommended – the expression may disturb the normal balance, leading to inflammation or infection.

This is a recurring problem for my pet. I can’t afford to go to the vet every time!
Some pets do seem predisposed to having anal sac problems. If this is the case with your pet, speak to your vet about learning how to empty the anal sacs at home to prevent problems. Some pets are also helped by adding some fiber to the diet to help bulk up the stools. Your veterinarian will be able to help you with available options for diet, too.

Janet, DVM
Text: Copyright © Janet Tobiassen Crosby. All rights reserved.

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