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Why do dogs scoot?

Dog scooting

If you’re a dog owner, you might have noticed your furry friend scooting across the ground on their bottom. While this behavior might elicit giggles or glances of horror, it is fairly common and can let you know that your dog is trying to fix a problem back there.  

Possible reasons for scooting 

Dogs scoot for a number of reasons ranging from itching, to pain, to a possibly more serious problem.  Understanding why dogs scoot and what can be done about it can lead to making your dog more comfortable and ending this sometimes-unsavory behavior. 

The biggest reason for scooting is to relieve itching or irritation in their anal area. Itching can come from a variety of causes, including worms, allergies, a dirty bottom, or impacted anal glands. 

Anal glands and scooting 

Though it seems unpleasant to discuss, impacted anal glands are one of the most common causes of scooting and can be very uncomfortable for your pup. All dogs have sacs located on either side of the anus. These contain glands that secrete a smelly fluid when the dog poops, which helps dogs mark their territory and identify other dogs. This is what dogs are sniffing when they meet each other and give a ‘hello around back’.  Normal, firm stools allow the dog to express these glands naturally as they pass through. At times, however, stools that are either too loose or irregular due to constipation can cause the glands can become impacted, and scooting is a way to relieve the discomfort and pain of that swelling.  

Skin irritation 

Another common reason for scooting is skin irritation. Dogs who need to be frequently groomed, like cocker spaniels, old English sheepdogs, and poodles, might find their skin has become irritated by the clippers or residue from the products used in grooming.  

Some dogs also experience skin allergies just like humans, which can cause itching and discomfort in the anal area. Other irritants such as flea bites, intestinal parasites, food allergies, or even environmental allergens can all contribute to skin irritation and scooting. 

What can I do? 

Being sure that your dog’s rear end is clean after a bowel movement will eliminate irritation. Keeping the area around their anus clipped short or using a warm wipe to clean longer hair could help if this is a consistent problem. 

Dogs suffering from parasites such as tapeworm will also be itching their rear ends. If you notice scooting and excessive licking along with what appear to be broken grains of white rice in their stools, around their anus, or in their bedding, take the dog to the vet for deworming treatment. 

If there is an increase in scooting behavior about an hour after eating or right after elimination, you might suspect a food allergy. Trying different food could make a difference. 

Sometimes, it is necessary to relieve impacted anal sacs manually, especially if there is a risk of infection or abscess. However, if your dog is not having a problem, it is important to leave the sacs alone. Some groomers routinely express the glands, which is unpleasant for all involved, dog and human, and can lead to damage in these sensitive sacs.  

If your dog is having trouble expressing their glands, a diet that is too low in fiber or has limited sources of protein might be affecting their stools and not allowing the glands to clear. Stools that are consistently thin or watery will not add pressure as they move past the glands and cause them to empty. Firming up their stools with added fiber such as canned pumpkin should make it easier for this process to occur naturally. Seeing that your dog drinks enough water and gets exercise every day will also help ensure good bowel movements. 

When should I be concerned? 

In general, occasional butt scooting should not be a cause for alarm. Most dogs exhibit this behavior once in a while as it is the only way they can address an itch on the rear. You might also notice increased licking or chewing behavior at the area if there is an irritant. Prolonged or frequent scooting many times a day or over a period of days, however, could indicate that your dog has an underlying problem that should be addressed by a veterinarian.  

Normally, a solid bowel movement works to clear your dog’s anal sacs. If not, the sacs can become swollen, solid, and inflamed. Prolonged impaction can lead to infection or even abscesses. If you notice signs of infection such as discharge, pain when walking or sitting, and not wanting to poop, or if your dog is lethargic or feverish, be sure to have a vet check your dog right away. The veterinarian will be able to determine what is causing the dog’s behavior and can then work to relieve both the underlying cause and the symptoms that you are seeing. 

In some much rarer cases, scooting can also be a sign of a more serious underlying health issue. For example, if your dog is scooting and also experiencing diarrhea or vomiting, it could be a sign of a digestive problem or even a serious disease like colitis or pancreatitis. 

The bottom line on scooting 

While nobody likes the image of their dog scooting its rear across the carpet, it is often an indication of a problem that is easy to solve. If you notice your dog scooting every once in a while, it is likely that they are just dealing with an itch or a dirty bottom after doing their business and some quick help with clean up might be all that is needed to end the behavior. However, if the scooting is constant and prolonged or if it is accompanied by behavioral or other health changes, be sure to have your pup examined by your veterinarian. They will conduct a thorough exam to see what is irritating the dog’s rear end and causing the behavior. Once your vet has been able to determine the underlying cause of the scooting, they can recommend a course of treatment. Rather than just treat the behavior by scolding or interrupting your pet while scooting, addressing the cause of the scooting will most often lead to a quick end of the scooting behavior.