By Samantha Drake
Many dog owners have experienced that awkward feeling somewhere between embarrassment and annoyance when their dog scoots or drags his bottom across the rug. Because, of course, dogs tend to perform this socially unacceptable behavior in front of as many people as possible and leave their mark behind on the carpet.
But dog scooting is more than just scratching an itch—it often indicates a medical problem that requires attention. “The reality is, dogs are sending us a signal,” says Dr. Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer of the American Kennel Club in New York.
Why Do Dogs Scoot?
The underlying problems often stem from something no one likes to think about, much less investigate—the dog’s anal sacs. A type of gland, anal sacs are located on each side of a dog’s anus, with ducts emptying outside the dog’s body. A lot of dog owners are unaware these glands even exist, probably because many animals don’t have them. (For the record, cats have anal sacs, too.)
“The Scooting Dog Decoded,” an article published in The Whole Dog Journal speculates that anal sacs once played an important role. “When marking and defending boundaries were crucial for canine survival, [anal glands] likely had a key role, adding a dog’s unique and identifying scent to his excrement; today, salutatory butt-sniffing might very well be an evolutionary remnant of that territorial imperative,” the article states.
Unfortunately, the anal sac ducts can get clogged and impacted, leading to itchy discomfort. Hence, the scooting. Left untreated, impacted anal sacs can burst open, says Klein, a development no one wants to see, smell, clean up, or have their dog experience.
How to Help Dog Scooting
Scooting doesn’t signify an emergency but “it’s not a common dog behavior,” Klein says.
To investigate, dog owners should start by lifting their dog’s tail to check for signs of irritation, Klein explains. Swelling or anything else that looks out of the ordinary should be checked out by a veterinarian, he says. A vet can manually express impacted anal glands and palpate the glands to check for tumors. Most dog owners prefer to leave this to the professionals.
If impacted anal glands becomes chronic, a board-certified surgeon can correct the condition by removing the glands, although that tends to be a last resort, adds Klein.
Dr. Jennifer Schissler, assistant professor of dermatology at Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences in Fort Collins, explains that anal gland problems can affect any dog and any breed. “I think they’re all equally susceptible,” she says.
Other Causes of Dog Scooting
Other conditions that may cause a dog to scoot on its bottom include allergies, tumors and worms, notes Schissler. All of these conditions should be checked out by a vet, she adds.
It’s also important to remember that, occasionally, an itch is just an itch. If checking under the dog’s tail reveals nothing more than the presence of fecal matter, a good bath is in order to clean the area, notes Klein. But if the “itch” persists, it’s time for a vet visit.