Butt-dragging. Carpet-surfing. Tail-scooting. These colorful terms (love to hear your favorite!) all describe one of our canine companions’ more common unusual actions: dragging and rubbing their rear end along the floor. But why do dogs scoot and rub their butts on the carpet? It’s not just to scratch an itch or “decorate” your floor – let’s examine some of the many potential causes of “hiney-hauling.”
By far the most common cause of scooting in dogs is full anal sacs. The anal sacs are two small scent glands located at 4 and 8 o’clock around the anus. These glands secrete a dog’s unique identifying aroma – which is why dogs sniff each other’s hinterlands when greeting! But they can be uncomfortable if they’re too full. In an effort to express the anal sacs and relieve painful pressure, dogs may drag or rub their rear along the floor. Full anal sacs may be to blame if you notice a discolored trail or an excessively smelly fog following your dog’s ground gyrations. If you observe your pooch scooting several times within a couple of days, ask your vet to look under the tail.
when scooting is serious
It can be difficult to tell between overly-full anal sacs and a more serious infection or tumor. Lift your dog’s tail and check for any bleeding, bruising, pus or swelling. If you notice anything unusual, take your dog to your vet right away. Anal sac infections are not only insanely painful, they can really get worse in just a few hours. Treated early, a round of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories may be all that’s needed. Catch it even a little late, and surgery is often required.
Anal sac tumors can be serious. Any swelling, protrusion or distortion of the anal region should be reported to your vet. If the tumor is confined to the anal sac, surgical removal makes all the difference. If diagnosed late, the cancer may spread to adjacent tissues or throughout the body. When in doubt, have your vet check it out!
Skin allergies are probably the second leading cause of tail-dragging. Seasonal allergies (or atopy) top the list followed by flea and insect bite reactions and food sensitivities. If your dog is scooting and scratching, your vet will treat both problems with appropriate allergy medications and supplements. I also recommend high-dose omega-3 fatty acids (fish oils or DHA and EPA) for my patients suffering from skin allergies.
One of the more disgusting causes of hiney-hauling is tapeworm infection. These foul flatworms cause intense itching around the anus. You can spot a tapeworm by their proglottids – tiny egg-carrying segments that look like rice – that are shed in the stool.
You won’t spot signs of another parasite, Giardia, in the feces. This microscopic organism can also cause anal region discomfort and must be diagnosed by your vet. In general, any dog with recurrent or persistent tail scooting should be tested for intestinal parasites.
Referred pain, especially from the lower back and hips, can also cause butt-dragging in some canines. If I see a dog that constantly licks their rear and the anal sacs appear normal, I’ll investigate pain as a possible culprit.
shepherds: pay attention
A poorly understood and somewhat rare cause of scooting in dogs is perianal fistula. This condition is most common in German Shepherds but can occur in any breed. The condition creates draining tracts that respond poorly to traditional treatments. If you have a German Shepherd that starts licking under their tail or scooting, don’t delay seeking medical treatment.
itching & burning
In addition to infected anal sacs, bacterial and fungal (yeast) skin infections can cause itching and burning in the hindquarters. Female dogs may develop a yeast infection in the perivulvar area (their “privates”) that can mimic anal sac problems. If your dog has a skin infection involving the abdomen and also scoots, make sure your vet evaluates both. Bladder or urinary tract infections (UTIs) can also cause scooting.
none of the above
Finally, some dogs will develop behavioral or neurological problems that lead to excessive grooming, rubbing or scooting. Tail-chasing, anxiety, fear and neurological impairment that cause numbness or tingling should be considered in certain cases. I’ve also seen many obese dogs excessively scoot without a clearly identifiable cause (losing excess weight cures the condition). Dogs that have had certain surgeries, especially spinal procedures, may develop abnormal symptoms related to nerve damage.
These are some of the more common causes of scooting in dogs. If your dog scoots more than a couple of times a day or for 48 hours, have them checked out by your vet (and bring out the vacuum and disinfectant!).