Monthly Archives: August 2021

Protozoal Diarrhea

Diarrhea isn’t fun for anybody. When your dog gets it – and feeding boiled chicken or hamburger with rice doesn’t make it go away – it’s time to see your veterinarian. There are lots of different causes of diarrhea in dogs, including dietary indiscretion (also known as eating dumb stuff), viruses, stress, abrupt diet changes, food allergy, inflammatory bowel disease, and of course, intestinal parasites. Of the intestinal parasites, some are worms and some are protozoans.

Protozoans are single-cell microscopic organisms. These organisms are free-living in the environment. When they get inside a host and cause disease, they are considered parasites.

In dogs, the two most common protozoan parasites we see are Coccidia and Giardia. These parasites cause disease in the intestinal tracts of dogs, resulting in diarrhea. Both are contagious and hard to eliminate from the environment. Dog owners should be aware of these diseases, how their dogs may become infected, and what to do about it.


There are many different species of Coccidia, also known as Isospora, but only four that infect dogs. Isospora protozoans are species-specific, which means the ones that infect dogs infect only dogs, the ones that infect poultry infect only poultry, and so on. As such, coccidiosis (an infection with Coccidia) in dogs is not a zoonotic disease, which means there is no need to worry about yourself or your family becoming infected, should your dog become infected. And your dog is not going to get infected by being around other species of animals.

How is it spread? Infected dogs pass oocysts in their stool. Interestingly, these oocysts are not infectious until they spend some time in favorable environmental conditions (temperatures of 70° to 100° F and high humidity) and go through a process called sporulation. Sporulation can occur within hours of the oocysts being passed, and ingesting sporulated oocysts is how your dog becomes infected.

Ingestion doesn’t mean your dog has to eat poop. It can happen when a dog sniffs poop or a poop-contaminated area and then licks his nose! Walking through infected areas and later licking their paws, swallowing flies or other insects that have ingested sporulated oocysts, and eating infected mice are all ways your dog could pick up Coccidia.

When this Great Dane and her puppies were surrendered to a shelter, staff members thought the dogs’ extremely low body weight was due to under feeding. After a few days in foster care, though, it was observed that the whole family had persistent diarrhea. Subsequent tests revealed that mother and babies were infected with Giardia and Coccidia. It took two rounds of treatment to clear the infections, but eventually they all thrived.

The most common sign in clinically affected dogs is diarrhea. For some dogs, the parasitic infection is self-limiting, and may not require treatment. These are the ones that get better with the hamburger and rice. For most dogs, however, treatment is required to resolve the diarrhea and eliminate the infection. 

Young puppies and stressed, debilitated, or immune-compromised dogs are usually the ones most severely affected. Some dogs with coccidiosis are asymptomatic (don’t show any signs of illness). This is a good reason to have stool samples checked regularly on your dog, so if a Coccidia infection is identified it can be treated before it gets worse. Treatment of oocyst-shedding, asymptomatic dogs also helps minimize environmental contamination and spread of the parasite.

Coccidiosis is diagnosed by a test done on a stool sample called a zinc sulfate fecal floatation with centrifugation, which identifies the oocysts. It’s usually pretty easy to diagnose. There is a chance, however, that symptoms may occur before oocysts are actively being shed. So, if your dog with diarrhea has a negative test, but continues having diarrhea, be sure to submit a second sample for analysis.

Treatment for coccidiosis in a veterinary clinic setting is typically a prescription medication called sulfadimethoxine (Albon, Zoetis). This medication is “coccidiostatic” – this means it doesn’t kill the protozoa, it just prevents their reproduction, thereby slowing the infection down and giving the dog’s immune system a better chance to clear the organism. Treatment is administered daily for an extended period, typically anywhere from five to 20 days. A fecal test should be repeated one to two weeks after treatment to be sure the infection has cleared.

Coccidiocidal drugs (those that kill Coccidia) are used frequently in horses, poultry, and livestock. Unfortunately, these drugs are not FDA-approved for use in dogs, which is why the coccidiostatic drug, sulfadimethoxine, is most often prescribed. 

Veterinarians have the discretion to prescribe medications that are not FDA-approved for dogs (i.e., “off-label” or “extra-label use” of an approved medication). The two coccidiocidal drugs most often prescribed off-label for treatment of Coccidia in dogs are ponazuril (Marquis, Boehringer-Ingelheim) and toltrazuril (Baycox, Bayer). These drugs are typically reserved for use in kennel or shelter situations, where coccidia can run rampant and be virtually impossible to eliminate from the environment.

As for prevention: Immediate removal of feces is the best way to minimize the potential for environmental contamination. When trying to decontaminate an infected environment, mechanical removal of all fecal matter is essential. Scrub surfaces thoroughly to remove any tiny particulate matter. Once all surfaces appear visibly clean, high-heat steam cleaning is recommended; it’s the most effective way to destroy the oocysts, which are resistant to most disinfectants, including bleach.


The protozoan parasite Giardia shares a lot of characteristics with Coccidia, but there are some important differences. 

As far as similarities go, they are both free-living and parasitic. They are both contagious, passed in the feces, spread by fecal-oral route, and difficult to eliminate from the environment. For those reasons they are both highly prevalent in kennel and shelter situations, especially when overcrowding is an issue. They both cause diarrhea in clinically affected dogs. They both cause clinical disease most often in young, debilitated, or immune-compromised dogs. With both organisms, infected dogs can be asymptomatic, and the disease can be self-limiting, requiring no treatment.

Importantly, however, Giardia is considered zoonotic, meaning your infected dog could infect you. Further, Giardia is shed in the form of both cysts and trophozoites (the activated, feeding stage of the Giardia life cycle), both of which are immediately infective in the form they are passed; they do not have to undergo transformation in the environment like Coccidia oocysts do. Dogs typically become infected with Giardia by ingesting fecal-contaminated water, food, or soil.

Giardiasis is more difficult to diagnose by zinc sulfate floatation with centrifugation than coccidiosis, as the Giardia cysts are only intermittently shed. For this reason, when using this test, submitting three separate samples from different days is recommended to maximize the likelihood of finding cysts if they’re there.

The most accurate test for Giardia is done with an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test. The ELISA test for Giardia can detect the actual presence of the trophozoites (the activated, feeding stage in the Giardia life cycle) within the intestines. 


Bathing your dog’s rear end is an important part of treating his Giardia infection, as the cysts and trophozoites that are present in his feces are immediately infective. If he like his anus, he can become reinfected.
Photo Credits: Markus Gann /

Treatment for giardiasis is geared merely toward resolution of clinical signs, as opposed to total elimination of the organism. Clearing the intestines of this organism can be difficult to impossible. For this reason, routine testing of asymptomatic dogs, while recommended for coccidiosis, is not particularly useful for giardiasis. Any dog with diarrhea, however, should be tested.

Giardia can sometimes be resistant to treatment, which is frustrating both for the pet owner and the veterinarian. Repeat treatments and combining drugs are sometimes required. Initial treatment is usually with an anti-parasitic medication called fenbendazole, daily for five days. If diarrhea persists, I repeat treatment with fenbendazole, in combination with metronidazole, for 10 days. Adding a probiotic is recommended as probiotics boost the gastrointestinal microbiome and local gut immunity, thereby helping the body resolve the diarrhea associated with this infection.

Another important aspect of treating Giardia infections is a bath on the last day of treatment, with extra attention paid to the anal area. Remember, the cysts and trophozoites are infective in the form they are passed. If there are any hanging out on the anus or in the hair around the anus, and your dog licks back there, he will immediately reinfect himself!

Testing after treatment that has resulted in full resolution of clinical signs is generally not recommended, as it is complicated and difficult to interpret. As previously stated, the goal of Giardia treatment is simply resolution of the diarrhea. Many dogs will continue to test positive long after resolution. These dogs do not require re-treatment. Some dogs will remain subclincial carriers forever. Try as you may, you will likely never clear these dogs of the organism. 

If a Giardia-positive dog continues to have diarrhea after treatment, testing can be helpful. If this dog still has a positive ELISA test, and you find cysts on the floatation test, Giardia is quite likely to still be the cause of the diarrhea, so re-treatment is indicated. Equally useful in this case would be a negative ELISA test. A negative test means Giardia is not the cause of the persistent diarrhea, and it’s time to look for other problems like inflammatory bowel disease or food allergy.

Preventive measures include immediate disposal of feces, bathing of soiled dogs, and denial of access to potentially contaminated food/water sources. For minimizing the human-health hazard associated with Giardia, good hygiene and frequent hand washing is recommended. 

As with Coccidia, deep cleaning with scrubbing of surfaces, followed by steam cleaning is the best way to destroy the cysts. Giardia cysts are slightly more susceptible to disinfectants, particularly ammonium based compounds. Bleach does not work.

You may have heard at one time about a vaccine for Giardia. It didn’t work, and it is no longer manufactured.


Any time your dog experiences persistent diarrhea, especially after being in a boarding kennel, dog park, or other area where many dogs have been concentrated, see your veterinarian and be sure to bring a fresh fecal sample with you. If the protozoan parasites Coccidia or Giardia are diagnosed, you and your veterinarian should be able to get your dog feeling better soon. 

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Meet Finnegan

Finnegan walks where his nose leads him. He loves doggy daycare because he loves to play with friends.


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Forget About Stress & Anxiety

POSITIONING THEMSELVES FOR REINFORCEMENT First off, sorry. The title was designed to get your attention. We cannot forget about stress and anxiety but rather than focus on those conditions we assume a dog is experiencing, let’s get down to the business of behavior. It has been important that people have been encouraged to […]

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Reinforce Your Dog’s Good Behavior

The best training tip out there is so simple it likely slips your mind: Catch your dog doing something right.

We all notice when our dogs take our peanut butter toast from the table, pull crazily on the leash, fly onto the freshly made (and forbidden) guest bed, or jump up on us as we’re trying to carry in the groceries.

But what about the rest of the time? Do we notice when this very same pup is lying calmly by the breakfast table? Or walking sweetly in an unasked-for “heel” by our left knee? Or standing out of the way while we make up that guest bed and bring in the groceries?

Nope. We just ignore those moments.

That’s an enormous mistake – and here’s my guess as to why so many people fail to notice, mark, and reinforce the good stuff throughout the day with, at the very least, some verbal praise such as, “Nice job, Max!” It’s this: Compared to all the “official” training you learn in Good Dog 101 – behaviors such as sit, down, come, stay, go to your bed, etc. – the moments when your dog is just being quietly good seem like . . .  nothing. 

Hear this: It is not nothing to your dog! The moments when he receives a reinforcer for exhibiting a behavior that you like are the breadcrumbs leading him home. He needs these clues to make sense of the random human rules regarding canine behavior.

Sure, that angry reaction you had to the toast-tasting incident instilled some kind of learning. But true clarity results from discovering what it is that you actually would like to see from him via a sweet pat, a kind word, and/or a tiny treat. If this enjoyable attention comes to him just as he lays down near the table, he learns,“Ah! Everything’s always nice when I do this thing! I’ll do this thing more.” 


Just try this: Today, focus on seeing and reinforcing all the “good” things you see your dog do – all the behaviors you appreciate from your dog.

  • She’s making eye contact? Aw, good girl. Talk to her.

  • You’re on Zoom and she’s just lying still at your feet? Make a point to stroke her in her favorite spot. 

  • A delivery person rang your doorbell and your pup listened when you asked for a sit before opening the front door? That warrants a tossed treat or toy.

It’s obvious to you how you want your dog to act. It is not even a little bit obvious to your dog, in whose natural canine culture it is perfectly appropriate to jump up, grab any available food, mouth everybody, and tear stuff up. Reinforcing the behavior you’d prefer to see your dog display gives him a bright trail to follow. 

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How to Take Your Dog on a Bicycle Ride

Cycling with a dog is a great way to get exercise and have an adventure.
carry dog on bike

Riding a bike can be a fantastic activity to share with your dog, big or small. If you have a dog that requires a lot of exercise, having them run alongside the bike can provide them much-needed physical stimulation. For small dogs or older dogs, riding with your dog in a bike trailer or basket is a great way to get where you need to go without putting too much of a burden on your pet.

When it comes to learning how to take a dog on a bike ride, the most important part of bicycling with dogs is safety. We’ll go over safe riding techniques, the best gear for biking with dogs, and tips and tricks to keep the experience safe and fun. Before you know it, you’ll be off on a whole new adventure with your pup.

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On Target Training

There’s a behavior that we never used to teach in old-fashioned training classes that is now one of my absolute favorites; I can’t wait to introduce my students to “targeting” – teaching their dogs to touch a designated part of their bodies to a specified object or place. It is not only an amazingly useful behavior, but also fun and easy to teach and most dogs love it. I can’t imagine how we ever got along without it!


We usually start with nose targeting, because dogs tend to investigate with their noses, making a “nose touch” an easy behavior to prompt and capture. If you offer the palm of your hand to your dog with your fingers pointed toward the floor, most dogs will stretch forward and sniff it. Mark (click a clicker or use a verbal marker, such as the word “Yes!”) and give your dog a treat, and you’re on your way! If your dog needs a little encouragement, you can rub a bit of a tasty treat on your hand, and when she sniffs it, mark and treat. Most dogs learn to touch the proffered palm within just a few tries.

As with all behaviors we teach, as soon as you can predict that your dog is going to touch your palm with his nose when you offer it, begin using the verbal cue; I use “Touch!” Note that if she already thinks an open palm is the cue to offer her paw to you for a “Shake,” then you can offer a closed fist or two fingers in place of the open palm.


If you happen to have a dog who is very “pawsy” (likes to use her feet), teaching her to step on a talking button is likely going to be a breeze; she might just smack that button with her paw when you put it on the floor and you can just “capture” this foot targeting, by marking and reinforcing her randomly offered paw at the button. 

The training technique known as “shaping” often works best to teach your dog to target with other body parts. To shape a behavior, you mark and reinforce progressively closer approximations of the behavior you actually want. 

To shape a dog to touch a talking button with her paw, you would set the button on the floor, and mark and reinforce (feed her a treat) each time she takes a step toward it – or even if she merely moves a front foot! As she begins to realize she’s getting reinforced for foot movement, she’ll start to move her paw on purpose and you’ll be able to shape her to touch her foot to the button, or anything else you have in mind. 

 If you want her to target with other body parts – say, a shoulder or hip – shape it the same way: Mark and treat any movement with that body part until she’s deliberately moving it, then shape for targeting. (See “Shaping Your Dog’s Behavior,” Feb. 2017.)


Here are just a few of the things you can do with your dog’s targeting behavior:


Teaching your dog to touch his nose to the end of a target stick enables you to maneuver him (without force or touching him) over or around obstacles. The CLIX Target Stick seen her costs $6 from

 *Positioning your dog. You can use nose targeting to invite your dog onto the walk-on scale at your veterinary clinic, into your vehicle, through a doorway, out of your path, onto the sofa – the list is endless.

*Teach tricks. Kai, our Kelpie, will leap five feet into the air to target to my hand, and weave through my legs, targeting to a hand on each side as he passes through. I also used a hand target to teach my dog Bonnie to open a picnic basket with her nose.

*Perform household behaviors. Your dog can close or open drawers with her nose and use touch-on/touch-off features of lamps or push-button dial 911 in an emergency. 

*Decrease fear. If your dog is worried about something but loves targeting, you can ask her to touch your hand as you move past or away from the aversive object or person. This focuses her attention toward you and helps the emotional part of her brain shift from “Oh, scary person!” to “Yay, targeting!”

*Call your dog to you. If your dog loves targeting but is a little “meh” about her recall cue, try asking her to “Touch!” when you want her to come to you. She has to come to you to touch your palm!

*Move your dog away from you. Teach her to target to a cottage cheese lid, then tape the lid to a wall and ask her to target to it. Gradually send her across the room to her lid-target from farther and farther away. 

Polite leash walking. (See “Moving Target,” page 5, for instructions on how to teach this.)


Since the popularity of Stella, Bunny and other dogs who have been taught to press buttons to “talk”, it’s possible to buy the buttons from many online sources. Search for “talking buttons for dog.”

*Touching buttons. Your dog can foot-target to talking buttons as part of a fun routine. There are also light buttons that she can turn on and off with a tap of her paw.

*Communication. My Corgi, Lucy, used a paw touch to my foot to signal me she had found an odor (her “alert”) when we were doing scent work. Your dog could touch you with a paw as her cue to ask to go outside, or use her paw (or nose) to ring a bell or a buzzer as her bathroom “ask.” 

*Agility. An important skill in the sport of agility is making sure your dog hits the contact zones at the end of obstacles. This is often accomplished by teaching the dog to hind-foot target to the contact zone.

* Targeting with Other Body Parts 

*Target an ear toward you or your veterinarian for a physical examination or for an application of ear cleaner or medication.

*Target an open mouth to a metal bar for mouth exam or tooth cleaning (I saw a bear who was taught to do this at the Taronga Zoo in Australia!).

*Target the chin to a rolled-up towel on a chair for cooperative care procedures.

*Target a hip to a target stick to teach a pivot.

These examples just scratch the surface of the versatility and variety of potential applications for targeting. Do you have examples of other targeting behaviors you’ve taught your dog? Please share! 

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Valley Fever in Dogs (Coccidioidomycosis) — Signs and Treatments

The symptoms of this fungal disease are not always easy to recognize
valley fever in dogs - southwest

While there are many diseases, illnesses, and threats to your dog’s health for dog parents in the southwest, there’s another hidden danger—Valley Fever. According to Veterinary Information Network it’s estimated that 60% of those infected with Valley Fever don’t show any symptoms. But for that other 40 %, it’s another story.

Valley Fever is a fungal disease that is most common in humans and frequently affects dogs and other species. Valley Fever (coccidioidomycosis) is caused by a fungus called Coccidiodes immitis. Other common names for the disease are California disease, San Joaquin Valley Fever, and desert rheumatism.

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5 Tips for Food-Stuffed Dog Toys

Enrichment toys for dogs are popular, and for several good reasons. They can be great boredom busters, helping to channel a dog’s energy into an acceptable activity. They can slow a dog’s habit of eating too quickly, thus helping prevent choking. And research suggests that dogs may prefer working in some way to obtain their food to eating food that’s readily available in a bowl. 

One of the oldest enrichment toys on the market is the Kong, first developed in the 1970s when company founder Joe Markham discovered his German Shepherd’s love of a discarded rubber auto part. The original toy that Markham invented is now considered a classic, easily recognized by its original bright red color and hollow beehive shape. Today, Kong toys are available in a wide variety of shapes, colors, and sizes – and there are just about as many ways to stuff a Kong as there are trainers to think them up!

While the Kong Company is a leader in innovating and refining more and more canine toys that can be stuffed with food, many challengers have brought other exciting food-puzzle toys to market. One of our newer favorites is the Toppl, made by West Paw. Its wide opening is more enticing for those dogs who are put off by the more difficult task of getting food out of the Kong. 

Whatever toy you use to hold food for your dog to unpack, these tips will help you stuff the most fun and functionality into the toy for your dog to enjoy:

1. Get the right size. I prefer to start my puppies with whatever size they’ll use as adult dogs, to make sure outgrown toys don’t accidentally become choking hazards later on. And, for pups and young dogs,  I use food-dispensing toys to feed the entirety of their meals – I only rarely put their food in a bowl. Any bit of time that they are fully engaged in a safe activity is time I can use to do something else!

The goal, then, is to find a toy of just the right size, or a combination of toys of the right sizes, to contain their meal. This takes some experimentation, and depends on the kind of diet you feed (kibble, canned, rehydrated, commercial raw, or home-prepared). 

Classic Kongs come in six different sizes, from XS to XXL. Toppl comes in two sizes (small and large); the two sizes can be used as a pair, with the smaller one inserted into the larger one to create an additional challenge (the dog has to separate them before he can start getting the food out).

Here’s an array of healthy and nutritious ingredients ready for stuffing a week’s worth of food-dispensing toys.

2. Teach your dog how to get the food out – and make it easy at first! When first introducing your dog to a food-stuffed Kong, you should make the contents especially tasty and particularly easy for your dog to extract; some dogs lose interest if it’s too difficult to unpack. 

Let your dog watch you add a small handful of kibble mixed with some small favorite treats. Excitedly shake the Kong before offering it to your dog. Set the Kong on the ground and gently manipulate it until a few treats fall out. Encourage your dog to interact with the toy and calmly praise his success. 

After he understands that moving the toy around can make treats fall out, start adding a smear of peanut butter, creamed cheese, or canned dog food just inside the rim of the toy. Hold the toy for him and manipulate it so that he can reach all the yummy goodness inside with his tongue. Then reload it and put it on the ground for him to try without help. 

 As long as he’s motivated to work persistently to get the food, you can keep increasing the difficulty of the food-extraction challenge with each food-stuffed toy you offer him. Next, you might pack the toy with wet food or a mix of kibble and something like peanut butter or yogurt; these foods require a combination of licking and tossing or dropping the toy to extract. 

Here are some more ways to keep ratcheting up the difficulty of the food-extraction challenge:

If using kibble or other small treats, add a few larger, oddly shaped treats (such as dried beef lung or a large piece of biscuit) that will get in the way of the small treats and require more work to extract the contents. 

Tightly pack the contents into the toy. Don’t be afraid to really shove stuff in there! I sometimes use the back end of a butter knife to tightly compact the contents of the toys.

Prepare a number of food-stuffed toys in advance and freeze them for an added challenge and as a cool treat on a hot day. An advantage to freezing is that you can prepare several at once so they’re always on hand when you need one. (Pro Tip: Muffin pans, coffee cups, or ramekins work well to hold Kong toys upside down in the freezer as they set, especially when using liquid contents that might drip.)

Teach your dog to search for treats and toys and then hide the food-stuffed toys somewhere in the house.

Put the food-stuffed toys in a cardboard box or folded-up paper bag and encourage your dog to do whatever it takes to “get the toy!” 

3. Be creative and change recipes to retain your dog’s curiosity and interest. Anything that’s safe for a dog to eat can be added to a food-dispensing toy. Kibble, canned dog food, dog treats, fresh fruits and veggies, meats, cheese, yogurt, canned pumpkin, mashed sardines, dry cereal, even select leftovers pulled from the fridge all make great ingredients. (Always introduce new foods in small amounts to help prevent digestive upset.) See the recipes below for some of my dog’s favorite “Kongcoctions.” 

4. Make adjustments for dogs who need to count calories or who are on a limited-ingredient diet. If your Westie is watching his waistline, or your Labrador’s diet is limited, stuff their food-dispensing toys with their regular diet, with the addition of perhaps just a few low-calorie treats or tidbits that won’t trigger an allergic reaction. 

Here’s a tasty way to increase the appeal of your dog’s usual kibble without adding too many calories: If your dog enjoys peanut butter, whisk a tiny bit into hot water and use the peanut butter water to coat the kibble before stuffing it into the toy.  

5. Keep it clean. A quick soak in warm soapy water and an old toothbrush or bottle brush works well to address any remaining food particles stuck inside. Kong and Toppl toys are also safe to wash in the dishwasher (but use the top rack!). 

Quick and Easy Food-Stuffed Favorites

These recipes are simple and easily make enough filling for multiple toys. Much like doing my own meal prep before the start of a busy work week, I set aside about 30 minutes to prepare a “flight” of food-stuffed toys for the freezer. Don’t be afraid to get creative; dogs don’t care about strange combinations. Sardines and blueberries? Sure! Chopped apples on a layer of liverwurst? Why not? Have you seen what dogs pull from the trash and eat? Their food palette is on an entirely different planet than ours when it comes to culinary choices.  

Peanut Butter Kibble

Dilute one tablespoon of peanut butter with two tablespoons of hot water. Whisk until combined. Add one cup of kibble. Mix until coated and spoon into toys. 

Fruit Salad

Chop dog-safe fruits of choice. (We like apples and assorted berries.) Add directly to toys or stir into a mixture of canned pumpkin and plain yogurt.

Something’s Fishy

Drain a tin of sardines (use the ones that are packed in spring water). Shred the fish with a fork. Mix with pumpkin and yogurt. Spoon into toys. Adding kibble to this mix will stretch the sardine mash a little farther. These are best served outdoors; they are stinky!

Reconstituted Dog Food

I don’t use dehydrated dog food for meals, but I do keep some on hand to use as an easy, healthy meal replacement served out of a toy. 

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Dog Scooting: What You Can Do

When you see a dog “scoot” on his behind, wiping his bum on the rug or lawn, do you think, “Gee, that looks like fun!”? No! The first thing you think is, “Oh dear, he must be uncomfortable!” 

Why do dogs do this? And what can we do to help them?

Most often, when dogs scoot, they are trying to relieve the pressure and discomfort that comes from overly full anal glands. 


The anal glands are two sacs that sit within the anal sphincter muscle. If you consider the dog’s anus as a clock face, the position of the glands are approximately 4:00 and 8:00.

Observing the fact that dogs routinely sniff each other’s butts when greeting, animal behavior experts speculate that the anal glands play a role in canine socializing. But today, as dogs serve mostly as companions to humans and live in our society, the glands appear to serve no purpose other than to annoy your dog and you! 

Some dogs never have any trouble with their anal glands. When these dogs have a bowel movement, the passing stool presses on the anal glands and discharges some of the fluid from the glands, thus keeping the glands in a comfortable, not overfull condition.


Problems arise when a dog’s anal glands do not achieve any emptying with bowel movements. The gland secretions continue to accumulate with no outlet. When the glands reach an uncomfortable pressure, the dog will scoot along on the ground, trying to relieve the pressure. Many dogs will lick incessantly at the anus with the same goal. When some dogs’ glands are overly full, the owner will periodically smell a foul, sometimes fishy odor emanating from the fluid that leaks from the anal glands.

To make these dogs comfortable, the anal glands must be manually expressed. This service is typically provided by your veterinarian, a licensed veterinary technician, or a skilled groomer. 

With a gloved and lubricated hand, pressure is applied to the glands, until the secretions are expelled through the ducts that have openings in the anus. This can sometimes be achieved completely externally, depending on the position of the gland and the angle of its duct. 

When this is not possible, the index finger is inserted into the rectum, and the gland is squeezed between the index finger internally and the thumb externally. Normal anal gland secretions are liquid to pudding-like in consistency and range in color from beige to gray or brown.

How often a dog needs his anal glands expressed varies. Once a month is not uncommon. Owners typically wait until their dog starts scooting again, then schedule anal gland expression. This can get expensive, especially if done with your veterinarian. 

If you are up for the challenge, you can ask your veterinarian to teach you how to express the glands yourself. This would save you a lot of time and money. I have taught a few dog owners how to do this over the years. Not surprisingly, most of them keep coming in for anal gland expression. I mean, let’s face it, it’s not a pleasant job!


It can be uncomfortable to witness your dog’s efforts to deal with the pain of full anal glands, but show some understanding and get her some help as quickly as possible, before her glands get impacted or infected, or burst.
Photo Credit: Elnur/

Disease states associated with the anal glands include impaction, infection, abscesses, and tumors. Impacted anal glands get filled with dry, hard material that is difficult to manually express. Sometimes several days of warm sitz baths are necessary to loosen up the impacted material enough to allow expression. For this, partially fill a tub with warm water and have your dog sit with his or her anus submerged for 10 minutes, two to three times daily. 

It’s important to relieve impacted anal glands as these are likely to abscess. Anal gland abscesses occur when the gland gets infected and fills with pus. This condition typically appears as a hot, red, painful swelling next to the anus that breaks open and drains through the skin.

Treatment for an anal gland abscess includes warm sitz baths, oral antibiotics, pain medication, and medical-progress exams with your veterinarian.

Anal gland infections that haven’t abscessed yet are usually identified during expression. Infected anal gland secretions are often green in color and sometimes bloody. For this condition, your veterinarian will insert a tiny cannula into the anal gland duct, flush the gland with saline and/or an antiseptic, and inject an antibiotic ointment into the gland. Warm sitz baths and oral antibiotics are important for this condition, too.

Anal gland tumors are typically discovered during the process of expressing the anal glands. When found, surgical removal of the affected gland and tumor is recommended. Some anal gland tumors are benign and surgery is curative. Unfortunately, malignant tumors carry a guarded prognosis for long-term survival.

You may ask, why not just have the potentially problematic glands surgically removed? Surgical removal of normal anal glands is generally not recommended. This would be an elective procedure – more for convenience than medical need –and there are risks associated with the procedure, including permanent fecal incontinence.


The best way to try to help your dog avoid anal gland issues, and to minimize the necessity of manual anal gland expression, is to add fiber to your dog’s diet. The idea is that the increased fiber will bulk up your dog’s bowel movements, making them bigger and thus more likely to put pressure on the anal glands, releasing secretions on their way by. 

The easiest ways to add fiber to your dog’s diet is with psyllium powder (like Metamucil) or canned pumpkin. For small dogs, appropriate amounts would be ¼ teaspoon (tsp) Metamucil or 1 heaping tsp canned pumpkin per meal; for medium dogs, ½ tsp Metamucil or 1 heaping tablespoon (tbsp) canned pumpkin per meal; and for larger dogs, ¾ tsp Metamucil or 2 heaping tbsp canned pumpkin per meal.

Dietary fiber will help some dogs. For others, keeping up with manual anal gland expression as needed is the only way to keep them comfortable. 

The post Dog Scooting: What You Can Do appeared first on Whole Dog Journal.

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