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Butt scooting: why anal gland problems are such a drag

As published in Canadian Dogs Annual
Butt scooting: why anal gland problems are such a drag

Chances are you’ve seen a dog butt scooting along the floor. Anal gland infection, irritation and inflammation is an extremely common problem among dogs – so much so that I used to consider it the factory defect of the canine world. It is often not serious, but can be a real embarrassment when company comes over and your dog decides to “mark the occasion” by “scooting” along the floor.

Butt scooting: why dogs do it

Since your dog can’t deliberately empty his own anal glands, he or she tries to express them himself by dragging the glands on a rug (butt scooting). Apparently, Turkish and shag work very well!

Stool consistency and frequency also play a big role. With every bowel movement, stool is supposed to press on the glands and empty them as it moves past. Stool that is too soft, or does not pass at all, may set the dog up for problems. So too may irritation of the rectum from stools that are way too frequent, such as in colitis. All that local irritation and rawness just extends to the neighboring anal glands.

If the glands don’t empty, not only do they get too full, but they can become that much more difficult to express later. Worse, bacteria may get inside the glands and create an infection.

Oral antibiotics are often not that helpful, unless the glands are badly infected. Ointment infused by your veterinarian into the anal glands (sometimes under sedation) provides immediate comfort, but usually only lasts a few weeks. Many glands may not actually be infected but just overactive in their secretions. So how do you help your dog?

Fiber to the rescue!

PumpkinIncreased dietary fiber is one possible solution. Fiber can bulk the stool of constipated dogs, making it easier to pass, yet also absorb moisture in dogs with looser stools. It also absorbs the bacterial toxins that act as irritants.

When using sweet potato and canned pumpkin as your fiber source, you get an additional perk from their bioflavonoids (there are 13 in pumpkin). These colorful plant compounds are among nature’s strongest anti-inflammatories.

Fiber has one more crucial benefit to the scooting canine – it slows calorie absorption and lowers insulin levels. Insulin is the hormone that “puts the groceries in the cupboard”. If a meal is too fatty or easy to digest, insulin levels shoot up afterwards. If this happens too often, the high insulin levels predispose the dog to both acute and chronic inflammation of the skin, ears, eyes, bladder, gut, joints, blood vessels and – you guessed it – anal glands.

Any dog that is overweight has insulin levels that are too high, and is therefore prone to this sort of inflammation. Fiber is not a source of calories itself, but slows the absorption of other nutrients, reducing how much insulin is secreted after a meal. If this effect can be kept up on a sustained basis, inflammation is gradually and permanently reduced.

The “bottom” line: consider your dog’s food

A diet of two-thirds meat and one-third vegetables with a dash of calcium “does a body good”, at least as far as dogs are concerned. Let the vegetables handle the fiber needs, as starches won’t help the insulin issue in your dog. Supplements are available, and can help hasten and potentiate the benefits of a healthy diet. For example, Glandex is an all-natural premium supplement with ingredients that include pumpkin seed, enzymes and probiotics. In our practice, we’re very fond of Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture for speeding resolution along, but our success rate is much higher if owners have taken the steps to creating a healthy, unprocessed real food diet for their dog.

Vet with dogThe benefits of professional help

Some groomers may empty anal glands while others flatly refuse. If a groomer makes the effort, but only partially succeeds, it may just “awaken the beast”. Half-emptied but stimulated anal glands are apparently more irritating than quiescent full ones. All veterinarians and animal health technologists should be able to competently express those pesky glands, and may even teach you how to do it.

An advantage to the “professional approach” is that the vet or vet tech can make sure there’s nothing else going on. Anal gland tumors can look and feel like full anal glands but cannot be expressed. Best not to spend several minutes trying, or you could precipitate a spread of the tumor, at which point the prognosis becomes much worse.


Dr. Steve Marsden is co-founder of Edmonton Holistic Veterinary Clinic, and is arguably the foremost holistic veterinary practitioner in the world. As such, he spends three months a year teaching veterinarians on five continents. In 2009, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association honoured Dr. Steve as “Small Animal Veterinarian of the Year”, and in 2010, the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association named him “teacher of the year”. In addition to his veterinary work, he spends half his time treating people, thanks to his credentials as a naturopathic physician and his training as a Chinese medical practitioner.

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