If you are a new pet parent, you might be terrified the first time you notice this peculiar behaviour. Your dog suddenly makes a weird face, leans onto the front legs, and starts wholeheartedly dragging his or her butt along the ground. Bonus points if your pooch does it at dinner in front of your guest.
What on earth could be the cause of this awkward behaviour? Well, there are a few different things that could cause this behaviour, but a dog dragging their butt on the ground is always a sign that they are in some kind of discomfort.
4 Potential Triggers for Dog Scooting
At least where I come from, when a dog starts scooting everyone seems to be convinced that the dog is infested with worms. However, it turns out intestinal parasites are just one of the several possible issues that might make dogs drag their buts across the ground.
More often than not, canine scooting is harmless, but it can also be a sign of some serious underlying issues. Here are some potential answers to this mystery:
Anal Sac Issues
Anal sac problems seem to be by far the most common problem that makes dogs resort to scooting. If you have no idea what we are talking about, that probably means your dog hasn’t had any problems in this area so far. But they are unfortunately quite common.
The anals sacs, as you might guess, are located at the sides of the dog’s anus. These glands produce a specific liquid, which, under normal conditions, gets squeezed out every time a dog has a bowel movement. It is believed that these glands (used to) allow dogs to mark their territory with a unique scent. After all, we all know that dogs tend to sniff each other’s butts as a form of greeting, so it all makes sense.
So far so good. But the problem occurs when these glands get impacted - or, in other words, clogged. Clogged anal sacs can cause discomfort and pain, which will cause a dog to scoot. If left untreated, clogged anal sacs can get infected and cause a variety of serious problems for dogs. So, it’s best to act promptly if you believe this is the cause of your dog’s sudden need to scoot.
If caught early, an impacted anal gland will likely not be a big deal. However, we still recommend taking your dog to the vet for a physical examination. In most cases, the problem is soft by expressing the glands manually (2). In short, your vet will squeeze the right spot to get the excess liquid out.
Sometimes, this is all it takes, but for some dogs, the problem keeps coming back. In these cases, the dog might need to have the glands expressed manually every month or so. By the way, this can be done at home too, but we still recommend leaving it to the professionals if you are unsure what you're doing (providing that you are the type of person who would try something like that).
In more serious cases, the issue might be treated with oral or topical antibiotics, steroid ointments, and/or pain medication, but that’s something your vet will tell you about if it’s necessary.
PRO TIP: To prevent anal gland problems from occurring in the future, consider adding more dietary fibre to your dog’s diet. High-fibre diets aid digestion and help bulk up the stool, which in turn helps the healthy functioning of canine anal glands.
Sometimes, the cause of your dog’s scooting behaviour can be quite simple and easy to treat, albeit uncomfortable. Namely, dogs tend to scoot to relieve discomfort, and in some cases, their bum might just be itchy.
The skin around the bum can be irritated by a variety of causes. It could be all sorts of allergies, but it could be pretty much anything. For example, dogs that get groomed frequently sometimes experience irritation caused by grooming products like sprays and perfumes, short hair clippings or even physical irritation caused by the clippers (3).
Besides that, there might be another cause for skin irritation: a dirty bum. As icky as it is to think about this, dogs don’t have the ability to use toilet paper or wash as we do. Sometimes, faecal matter (or whatever else) gets stuck in the area which causes the dog to scoot and try and get it off.
The key to solving this issue is understanding what is irritating your dog. The first step might be to wash your furry friend’s butt with warm water. If the fur around it is matted or very dirty, you might need to trim it a bit too.
If your dog is groomed frequently, pay attention and see if they scoot more after grooming. If the dog appears to be itching all over, then the grooming products might be causing an issue (although it might be an allergy to something else entirely too).
As you probably know, dogs can get infected with various intestinal parasites, or, simply put, worms. These include (but aren’t limited to) various types of roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and tapeworms (4). There are also heartworms, but these are quite unlikely to cause scooting.
But most of the worms that live in the gastrointestinal tract of the dog can potentially cause scooting. Some of the main symptoms of worms in dogs include digestive disturbances, which can show up as diarrhoea, bloody stool, and similar issues. These can cause discomfort and the dog might try scooting to find relief.
Infections with intestinal parasites are much less likely to happen if you use regular deworming treatments (as most pet parents do) but don’t rule the possibility out entirely. Luckily, most intestinal parasite infections can be solved with a simple course of deworming treatment if the infection hasn’t progressed too far.
In any case, make sure to consult your vet to find out what exactly is the cause of the problem. They can use simple tests to determine whether there are parasites in your furry friend’s belly and use the results to determine the right course of action.
Food allergies and sensitivities are another possible root cause of dogs scooting. But, keep in mind that having food a dog is sensitive to won’t suddenly make your dog drag their bum across the ground.
Rather, food allergies can cause the issues we mentioned above: anal gland problems and/or skin irritation, which, in turn, might manifest as a scooting dog.
"[Food allergies] can present in many ways, but they commonly cause itching of the ears and the rear end. When the allergies flare up, they cause the skin to become red and inflamed" - Stephanie Lantry, DVM, Insider (5)
Food allergies in dogs can be quite difficult to diagnose. No simple and accurate test can be done to determine what foods your dog is sensitive to. A strict elimination diet can help find what exactly is causing the allergic reaction, but it can be a long and meticulous process (6). Still, it’s the best course of action to take if you suspect that’s what’s causing your pup’s problems. And, it’s always best done with the guidance of a vet.
In absence of that, allergy medications and various other treatments can also help, but that’s something that should never be attempted without the advice of a professional.
Should I Be Worried if My Dog Is Scooting?
Is a scooting dog reason to worry? Well, it’s hard to say. Canine scooting can be a symptom of various problems, some of which can be quite serious!
But, the good news is, most of the time it’s nothing that bad. Scooting is a fairly common behaviour in dogs, and there is no need to panic if your pup does it once or twice (no matter how awkward it might look). If the behaviour persists, though, it’s important to get to the bottom of things.
For a start, a simple visual inspection should help you start figuring out what exactly is the problem. If your dog’s bum appears dirty, or there is matted fur around it, that might just be the cause, so start by giving your dog a gentle bath and trimming any matted fur if necessary.
If the problem persists, definitely don’t ignore it, though. Scooting is a sign something is bothering your pooch and it’s important to find out what exactly it is.
- Flaim, D. March 21, 2019. “The Scooting Dog Decoded”. Whole Dog Journal. Retrieved September 23, 2022. https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/health/the-scooting-dog-decoded/
- Morrison, B. J. March 31, 2022. “Anal Glands on Dogs: What You Need to Know”. PetMD. Retrieved September 23, 2022. https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/anal-glands-dogs
- Nelson, J. September 15, 2022. “Why Is My Dog Scooting?”. AKC. Retrieved September 23, 2022. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/why-is-my-dog-scooting/
- Ward, E., Barnette, C. “Internal Parasites in Dogs”. VCA Animal Hospitals. Retrieved September 26, 2022. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/internal-parasites-in-dogs
- Laderer, A. April 2, 2021. “4 reasons why your dog keeps dragging their butt”. Insider Reviews. Retrieved September 27, 2022. https://www.insider.com/guides/pets/dog-dragging-butt
- Clinical Nutrition Team. January 27, 2017. “What every pet owner should know about food allergies”. Tufts Clinical Nutrition Service. Retrieved September 27, 2022. https://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2017/01/food-allergies/