So What Is With The Butt-Scooting? Anal Glands 101

“I think he has worms – he keeps dragging his butt.”

Butt scootThat is a misconception I hear all the time. Worms do NOT give a dog an itchy butt.

The misconception comes from mixing up dog worms with people worms: pin worms in children crawl in and out of the butt, and are spread by eggs on the hands when the kids scratch. The worms that dogs get, however, do not crawl in and out. Nope, they stay comfortably put and wait for their eggs to get pooped out.

So, why do dogs do the Tripod Wiggle (2 front feet and a butt, hind feet delicately suspended in the air)? Simple answer: their butts itch. The itch can be part of a general itchy skin condition, such as allergic dermatitis. But if the rest of the skin is OK, you are probably looking at an anal gland issue.

Anal “glands” are  bit of a misnomer. The parts that get overfull and uncomfortable are actually called Anal Sacs. The Anal Sacs nestle in next to the anus, surrounded by a circle of muscle. If the anal area can be looked at as a clockface, the sacs are at about 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock. They have long skinny necks leading to openings on either side of the anus. The actual glands are small things lined up along the necks. They ooze out a smelly material that collects in the sacs.

Anal Sac anatomyAnal glands are part of a dog’s Scent Signature. The way they are supposed to work is that every time a dog poops, the passage of the stool squashes the Anal Sacs between itself and the circle of muscle, squeezing out two tantalizing odouriferous ribbons of smelly goo. When dogs sniff each others butts, they are sampling this smell (which tells them a lot about that individual), and playing match-up: “Oh, it was YOU that made that poop down the block that I just checked out – pleased to make your acquaintance!!”

The process goes wrong when the sacs don’t empty out properly.

This could be because:

  1. The sacs are not getting properly squeezed, because the dog has a bout of diarrhea. No formed stool means nothing to “milk out” the anal gland contents.
  2. The anal sac openings are pinched shut by skin swelling – allergic skin disease can inflame the skin around the anal area.
  3. They are just built WRONG. Some dogs have anal sac issues over and over again, because they never manage to empty them properly. Their sacs are deep set on long, skinny necks, and are BEHIND the circle of muscle – they just never get squeezed by a poop the way they should.


The material builds up and causes pressure, and may dry out making it harder for the sac to empty out of that skinny neck. Then, if the dog is really unlucky, bacteria find this nourishing paste and set up residence. Now the sac turns into an abscess, and may eat away a hole in the overlying skin.

IMG_0723You can try to squeeze the glands externally by yourself; but do NOT put your finger in rectally unless you know what you are doing. You probably want to put on rubber gloves for this… if you get anal gland contents onto your skin, you will smell it for ages (trust me).

So, cup a cloth or tissue into your gloved hand to catch the material out of the sacs. Then with your thumb on one side of the anus, and your third finger on the other side, nestle your fingertips down into the two “valleys” formed by the “hill” of the anus in the middle, and the “peaks” of the pelvic bones to either side. Slide down just a little, so your finger tips are at 4 and 8 o’clock. Then squeeze your fingers deep and together, and pull back – this will “milk” the anal sac contents out into your tissue.

If your dog is expressing pain when you do this, STOP. One or both sacs could be developing an abscess even if it does not show on the outside yet. Time to call the vet!

To clean up and deodorize after, use a little bit of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide (you will find it in the first aid aisle of the drug store). The peroxide breaks the odour molecules down. And you WILL want to deodorize… while dogs find these secretions delightful, humans tend to disagree.

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