There are some parts of a pet that get more attention than others, like the parts that look at you so sweetly when you’re eating or the part that takes as many treats as you can hand out.
The part that gets the least attention is the underside of the tail. This area, the perineum or perianal area, is often overlooked by owners.
Bathing and grooming times are good opportunities to inspect the region under the tail for small growths, tiny cracks in the skin, swelling or matted feces. It's a good idea to check this area and keep it clean at least once a week.
In addition, if you see your dog or cat licking, scooting or licking under the tail, or apparent blood around the tail or in the urine, your pet will require veterinary attention. Bad odors from this area are also a warning for pet owners to call the vet.
The majority of problems vets treat in this region are related to one of the following:
1. Abnormal bowel movement consistency: diarrhea or constipation;
2. Stool matting in long-haired dogs or cats;
3. Bladder infections;
4. Tumors or growths around the perineum or rectum;
5. Anal gland infections, abscesses or impactions.
Problems with bowel movement consistency are pretty obvious, as long as you’re walking your dog on leash or scooping the litter box regularly. If you don’t observe your pet’s bowel movements daily, check them at least a few times a week.
When they don’t look right, schedule a checkup, and remember to take a stool sample to your pet’s appointment. For pets with long hair, groom under the tail at least once weekly. Keep hair around the rectum trimmed short. This prevents stool matting in the fur which can lead to infections and bad odors.
Signs of infections around the rectum include bad odors, discharges, and increased licking. Signs of bladder infections include blood in the urine, frequent urination, urinary accidents, and straining to urinate. If any of these signs are present, don’t delay in scheduling a vet visit.
Untreated infections can become life threatening. Polyps, tumors and perirectal growths occur around dogs' backsides more often than they do in cats. They are easier to remove when small, without affecting bowel movement control. I am often able to perform laser surgery for small growths. Be sure to visit the vet if you notice any lumps or bumps, anywhere on the body.
The most frequent cause of scooting, perirectal odors and attention to the perineum are anal gland infections, impactions and abscesses. Dogs and cats are predatory animals. Like all predators, they have anal sacs (anal glands) on both sides of the rectum. They produce fluid with a distinctive odor that identifies the animal and leaves his scent when he defecates.
Unfortunately, some anal glands don’t work as they should and can become blocked. If the anal glands don’t empty properly, they can become impacted, making bowel movements difficult or painful, and potentially lead to infections or abscesses. It’s not uncommon for a rescued dog to have a history of anal gland problems.
Your dog may damage the delicate tissue around his anus in attempts to relieve his own discomfort, so if you see him biting at his butt, or scooting along the ground, take him to the vet.
Impacted anal glands can often be relieved by manually expressing, or squeezing out, the fluid they contain. This prevents rupture. If your dog’s anal glands get impacted frequently, you should speak with your vet about long-term solutions.
Major reasons for anal gland worries are:
1. Chiropractic subluxation of the sacrum (corrected through adjustments);
2. Diet which does not promote natural anal gland expression (corrected through diet change;
3. Being overweight.
For my pet patients who have frequent anal gland problems, I recommend adjusting the sacral bones to improve nervous system signals and blood flow to the tissues around the rectum. I also encourage feeding a healthy diet with natural fiber (like pumpkin filling or green beans) and healthy probiotics to prevent infections.
In addition, I recommend removing allergens, like food preservatives, gluten and food coloring, from the diet, which can increase inflammation in the perineum. Though many vets recommend surgical removal of the anal gland tissue, I prefer to treat the underlying issues that cause the anal glands to become infected and avoid surgical complications, including loss of bowel movement control.
Once a pattern of impaction has occurred, reducing scar tissue and improving blood flow can be helped through therapeutic laser usage. Many pets who have been plagued with monthly impactions can achieve lifelong resolution after a course of antibiotics, probiotics, laser therapy and a diet change.
Remember to observe your pet regularly and visit the vet whenever you see or smell anything out of the ordinary.
Dr. Cynthia Maro is a veterinarian at the Ellwood Animal Hospital in Ellwood City and the Chippewa Animal Hospital in Chippewa Township. She writes a biweekly column on pet care and health issues. If you have a topic you’d like addressed, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.