It is not as elegant as a bouquet of roses or a handwritten note, but dogs and cats have their own method for communicating: They sniff each other's bottoms. Every pet releases a fluid that contains unique scent signals, which they use for marking territory, establishing status, and simply identifying themselves.
Most of the time, these pet-to-pet signals are invisible, and you will never see them. When you can actually see a discharge, however, there is probably something wrong.
In dogs (but usually not cats), an anal discharge may occur when tissues in the anus and rectum get inflamed and ulcerated, a condition called a perianal fistula. Vets aren't sure what causes this, although it may begin when bacteria invade hair follicles around the anus, causing a painful and potentially serious infection. In addition to a foul-smelling discharge, there may be bleeding. This condition can occur in any dog but is most common in large breeds such as German shepherds and English and Irish setters.
An anal discharge can also occur when the anal sacs -- one on either side of the anus -- don't drain properly. The buildup of fluids can lead to an infection, possibly followed by an abscess, an open sore that can ooze and bleed, says Lori A. Wise, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. Since an anal abscess can be extremely uncomfortable, dogs and cats will often scoot on their bottoms to relieve the irritation. In fact, scooting is one of the main signs of anal problems.
See Your Vet If...
- There is a discharge, bleeding, or a foul smell in the anal area
- Your pet is frequently scooting or licking her bottom
- Your pet's tail is limp
- A discharge from the anus, penis, or vagina has lasted two days or more
- Your pet is constantly licking his back end
- The vagina or anal area is red and swollen
- There is a growth on the anus or genitals
- Urine is dribbling while your pet sleeps
- There has been a change in your pet's urinating habits, or he is unable to urinate
- There is blood in the urine
- He's lost fur on the top or base of the tail
- The tail is greasy or infected, or it is getting thicker
- The anal opening stays open
- Your pet has been scooting for two days or more
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