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Why is my pet scooting? Check for anal sac issues

Does your dog do the "butt scoot boogie?" What is likely occurring is the dog trying to empty his anal sacs (sometimes called glands) by dragging his bottom on the ground, floor or carpeting. This behavior is especially embarrassing for owners when other people witness this behavior.

Dr. T. J. Dunn, a contributing columnist for petmed.com, describes anal sacs as "small paired pockets located between the internal and external sphincter muscles, one on each side of the anus at the 4 and 8 o'clock position." The sacs empty through short narrow ducts to the surface near the edge of the anus. Both sacs are lined with numerous oil and sweat glands. The semi-oily brownish fluid that is secreted often produces a foul odor. Cats also have anal sacs and when a cat defecates the smelly fluid from the anal sacs is squeezed out is believed to help them mark their territory.

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According to Dunn about 12 percent of dogs have anal sac problems and seem to be less common in large dog breeds. Anal sac issues seem to occur more frequently in small breeds like toy and miniature poodles, Chihuahuas and Lhasa Apsos. Other breeds that rank high for anal sac issues include beagles, Bassett hounds and Cocker Spaniels.

Some dogs are born with very narrow ducts that cause an obstruction to the flow of the anal sac contents. Dogs and cats may also produce material that is thick or semi-solid and cannot be passed through the narrow duct to be expelled. This condition and is referred to as Impaction and becomes so painful from the pressure that the animal has difficulty with defecating and may become constipated. Infection develops when bacteria builds up in the anal sacs and requires immediate treatment or it becomes an Abscess, the most painful of these three conditions. An abscess is swollen and full of pus and requires draining by a veterinarian before it ruptures. Antibiotics are prescribed for pets diagnosed with infections and abscesses.

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Unfortunately, dogs and cats can develop anal sac cancer technically known as adenocarcinoma that shows up as a mass on in an animal's rectum and is frequently detected in the lymph nodes. According to Dr. Karen Becker (healthypets.mercola.com) the tumor affects only one anal sac but sometimes both sacs may be involved. This type of cancer is not common in dogs or cats, but is invasive and spreads quickly to other locations like the liver and lungs. There is no known cause for anal sac cancer but it has been associated with a parathyroid hormone imbalance and hypercalcemia. The symptoms include a rectal mass and sometimes a large visible swelling on the anal region of dogs and cats. Dr. Becker lists other symptoms that include: constipation, difficulty with defecation or urination, thin ribbon-like stools, and the pet arching its back. She states: "If the tumor has caused hypercalcemia, additional signs can include increased thirst and urination, decreased activity, loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, and muscle weakness." The treatment for anal gland cancer is surgery to remove the tumor and the wide margin of tissue around it to insure that no tumor cells remain. According to Dr. Becker in over half of animals with anal sac tumors, the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes that may also need to be removed surgically. Surgery may not improve survival time if the cancer has spread to the lungs, liver or other organs. Recently a friend told me about the recent loss of his beloved Shetland sheepdog to anal sac cancer.

Dr. John Kable wants readers to be aware of problems with the small and numerous perianal glands that are located around a dog's anus and tail base. These glands can become inflamed and itchy particularly for pets with allergies. This condition can usually be managed with vet-approved allergy medications. Unfortunately these glands can also become enlarged from cancer especially in male dogs that have not been neutered. If caught early, neutering and tumor removal usually provide the solution to this problem.

What can owners do to manage anal sac issues?

•Watch for symptoms like butt scooting, frequent licking or biting the base of the tail or anal region or displaying discomfort when passing stool. An appointment with the vet is advised. The vet will conduct a rectal examination, run diagnostic tests if infection or a tumor is suspected. The vet may also "express" the anal sacs to release fluid or impacted matter to relieve the animal's discomfort. If an infection is present, antibiotics (oral and/or topical) may be prescribed.

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•With cats, note behavioral and physical changes like scooting, tail chasing, straining and crying when trying to defecate, difficulty with sitting, swelling of the areas near the anus, and exhibiting signs of fear or anger.

•Some professional groomers may express pets' anal sacs at the request of owners.

•Pets with persistent infections and abscesses may require surgical removal of their anal sacs, a delicate procedure because if a rectal sphincter muscle is cut, the animal may develop bowel incontinence and leakage.

The next time you bring your dog to the vet for a routine check-up ask to have the anal sacs checked and emptied (if needed). Your vet might teach you how to empty your pet's anal sacs. Warning: If you choose to take on this messy and often smelly task have plenty of paper towels and room deodorizer on hand. This is a grooming-hygiene procedure I want the professionals to perform on my pets.

Iris Katz serves as a member of the board of directors and as an educational facilitator for the Humane Society of Carroll County. Her column appears on the third Sunday of the month.

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