By Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS
Dogs do this because those rear ends are itchy. Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about why dogs scoot their butts on the floor.
Why do dogs scoot their butts across the floor? That infamous “butt crawl” could very well be caused by anal sac issues. Luckily, there are ways to help.
In this expert article, we’ll discuss 7 common causes of dog scooting:
Anal gland issues
Trouble “down below”
Ready? Keep reading, and let’s find out why your dog is scooting their butt across your floor.
Perianal Irritation: An Itchy Butt
Dogs live in the moment. It’s one of the many qualities we love them for.
The one downside is they think nothing of gluing their butt to the ground, lifting both back paws, and dragging their butt across the floor at the exact moment you’re trying to impress a new partner, boss or parent-in-law.
People have different tolerance levels for how much dog scooting they’ll put up with. I’ve known clients to worry because their dog scoots once every few weeks, while other people are oblivious to their dog rubbing their backside bald.
Butt scooting is just a symptom — usually of irritation in the nether regions. Veterinarians have a tidy expression for this that they enter on clinical notes: perianal irritation (in other words, an itchy butt.)
The deeper question then becomes “Why does this dog have an itchy butt?”
To answer that, here’s everything you ever wanted to know about why dogs scoot their butts on the floor.
Why Do Dogs Scoot Their Butts Across the Floor?
Possible Cause #1: Anal Sac Issues
Dogs love to sniff butts to pick up the other dog’s scent signature — because simply saying, “Hi, I’m Bonzo” isn’t exactly possible for a dog to do.
All dogs have a unique scent, a bit like a human fingerprint (only smelly) cooked up inside the anal sacs.
Dogs have 2 anal sacs, on either side of the anus. The idea is that when the dog poops, the anal sphincter squeezes the anal glands, which express a small bleb of super-smelly secretion. Kind of like the doggy equivalent of social media, this secretion then gives whoever cares to “read” (or sniff) it a message about who left it there.
Over-Full Anal Sacs
But anal sacs have some design flaws. Each gland is the size of a small grape, but the secretion drains out through a fine duct. This duct can become clogged or blocked, and secretion builds up inside the gland. This is known as impaction.
Like blowing too much air into a balloon, the glands stretch and stretch … which is very uncomfortable.
The dog then tries to relieve the discomfort by rubbing their butt to try and free things off. Indeed, impacted anal sacs are the most common reason dogs scoot their butts.
Infected Anal Sacs
Another common problem occurs if the anal sac contents become infected.
In the early stages, this is irritating to the dog who then scoots. But as the infection gets worse, the glands become painful and the symptoms change.
Signs of an anal gland infection in a dog include:
Constant rubbing or licking at the anus
A bloody or purulent discharge just beside the anus
The dog is off color or seems in pain
Cancer of the Anal Gland
Unfortunately, some dog breeds, especially Cocker Spaniels, are prone to cancer of the anal sac.
A tumor grows quietly, often undetected, until it blocks drainage from the sac. At this point, the anal gland becomes impacted or infected and the dog shows symptoms, drawing attention to the area.
Dealing With Anal Sac Issues
Some dogs are martyrs to anal sac issues, but there are ways to help:
Fiber: Mother Nature designed things so that each time the dog has a bowl movement, the anal sphincter (the muscles around the anus) milks secretion from the anal sac. A good, firm, bulky stool helps achieve just this. If your dog’s poop is excessively soft or has just tiny nuggets, then consider giving a fiber supplement. You can do this by giving raw vegetables grated in their food, veggies to chew on, bran or a fiber supplement in consultation with your vet.
Avoid diarrhea: Producing runny stool doesn’t squeeze on the anal sacs. If secretion builds up faster than it’s being squeezed out, this leads to discomfort and irritation. Be aware of this and aim to settle down that upset tummy as quickly as possible.
Manual expression: Some dogs go their whole life without needing their anal sacs emptied. Others need them doing every 2 weeks. This is down to an individual’s anatomy and how well the glands get squeezed when the dog poops. Always seek the help of someone experienced in the correct way to express anal sacs, rather than giving it a go yourself. Vets, vet techs and some groomers are a good option to learn from.
Anal sac removal (maybe): Surgical removal of the anal sacs is done much less frequently than in the past. There are some significant risks attached (such as fecal incontinence), so surgeons tend to be less scalpel-happy than they once were. Interestingly, modern medications that are effective against allergies (see Possible Cause #2, below) should be trialed before considering surgery. Cases that were once thought to be anal sac–related may respond to allergy treatment instead.
Possible Cause #2: Allergies
If a dog scoots their butt, but their anal glands are fine, next on the list of causes is an allergy.
Dogs with allergies often have itchy skin. If they have a food allergy, then as the remains of that food pass out of their butt, it inflames the mucus membrane and skin around the anus — and that brings perianal irritation.
The options here are to treat the allergy so that the itchy bum becomes a thing of the past. Here’s how.
Because an allergen in the dog’s diet is responsible for the itch, feed them a food that lacks the allergen and all should be fine.
This means finding a diet that contains a single protein source (i.e., the meaty part) and a single carbohydrate source that your dog hasn’t eaten before. Then feed this food and this only for 8–12 weeks, to wait for the allergens to clear their system.
Food allergy doesn’t respond well to anti-allergy meds — but when those allergens cause skin inflammation, then meds should give comfort.
There are lots of options out there, from cheap drugs with many possible side effects to more expensive but safer meds. For example:
Corticosteroids: These are inexpensive and highly effective anti-inflammatories. However, they do have side effects such as increased thirst, and the risk of developing diabetes or Cushing’s disease.
Atopica: This started life as a med developed to prevent organ rejection in transplant patients. Its action on the immune system also makes it effective at reducing inflammation. It has relatively few side effects, which can include diarrhea or the development of extra gum material.
Apoquel: This is a safe medication that is great at reducing inflammation. When first launched, it was such a revelation that demand outstripped supply and there were shortages. Happily, it’s now widely available for everyone who needs it.
Possible Cause #3: Diarrhea
Diarrhea can cause butt scooting for a couple of reasons.
First, the anal sacs don’t get emptied. Second, diarrhea can scorch the delicate mucus membrane and skin of the anus, making it sore. When a dog can’t reach to scratch, they’ll settle for scooting instead.
To deal with diarrhea:
Diet: Feed a bland, easy-to-digest diet until the feces firm up. Also, feed little and often, and consider mixing in a doggy probiotic.
Personal hygiene: Keep the dog’s rear clean by rinsing it with weak saltwater after each bowel movement. You can also apply a germicidal barrier ointment to prevent scorching.
See a veterinarian: Diarrhea that doesn’t settle down within 1–2 days needs to be sorted by a vet.
Possible Cause #4: Dingleberries
Dogs with long fur sometimes get poop stuck in the fur. This can tug on the hair, causing discomfort — or the poop rubs on the skin, making it sore.
I’ve seen “dingleberries,” as these are called, that are stuck so tight that they work like a cork in a bottle and prevent the dog from pooping altogether. Little wonder, then, the dog scoots their butt to try and free things off.
To remedy the situation:
Trim: Keep long dog hair clipped short around the dog’s rear.
Personal hygiene: Check the dog’s rear on a daily basis to make sure they’re clean down below.
Firm feces: Get diarrhea or soft stools sorted out quickly so the fur isn’t soiled.
For much more, see my article “The Delicate Subject of Dingleberries.”
Possible Cause #5: Parasites
When was your dog last dewormed against tapeworms?
Dogs get tapeworms from fleas or eating vermin.
The thing about these intestinal worms is that they can cause perianal irritation. This is down to the tapeworm egg packets that migrate out of the dog’s anus. Unsurprisingly, this is itchy.
Look for tiny white seedlike objects near the dog’s anus. Not all dewormers work against tapeworm, so look for one containing praziquantel.
Possible Cause #6: Trouble Down Below
Be aware that general irritation around the genitals may cause a dog to scoot.
For the girl dogs, check their private parts, being alert for knots in the fur round the vulva, skin infections in the vulval folds or a vaginal discharge. If in doubt, visit the vet.
Possible Cause #7: Behavioral Issues
And finally, a word of warning: What do you do when the dog scoots their butt?
If you a) shout at them or b) laugh, you may accidentally make the problem worse.
Giving the dog attention (any sort of attention) rewards the action. If the dog realizes that butt scooting makes them the center of attention, they may well use this as a strategy for drawing attention to themselves.
So make a mental note, but then get to the root cause of why the dog is butt scooting … and correct that problem to stop the behavior.
By Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS