Here are some common questions about cat butts that you were probably too afraid to ask:
There are many potential reasons for this behavior. Of course, there’s the simple one: Something (and we all know what that something is) has gotten stuck on the cat’s butt or on the fur immediately surrounding it, and the cat is scooting to try to get it off.
Another reason might be pruritus. That’s the fancy medical term for itchiness. A cat’s anus is comprised of skin, and some cats with skin allergies have itchy skin, including the skin back there. They may try to relieve the itchiness by aggressively licking, but overweight or arthritic cats might not be flexible enough to posture themselves properly, so they scoot to scratch the area.
Another possible reason is tapeworms. You might discover that your cat has tapeworms by noticing tapeworm segments clinging to the fur around the cat’s rear end. Or, you might have had the distinct displeasure of seeing a tapeworm segment actually wriggle out of your cat’s … balcony door. A few cats will feel the segments wriggling around back there and will scoot because it itches
And finally, some cats will scoot because their anal glands are full. Which leads me to the next question …
Like dogs, cats have anal glands. If you think of your cat’s anus as a clock (stay with me here), the anal glands are located just inside the anus at the 4 and 8 o’clock positions. They are similar to the scent glands of a skunk; however, they’re smaller and don’t serve much purpose anymore — except to gross out cat owners.
Did you ever startle your cat and soon afterward detect a nasty, kind of fishy smell? Those are the anal glands in action. As a cats-only vet, I’ve been “glanded” many times in the exam room. It’s a unique occupational hazard.
When a cat defecates, the stool passing through the rectum will put a little pressure on the anal glands, causing them to express their contents, which pass out along with the stool. In some instances, however, the ducts of one (or both) glands get clogged, and the anal gland material builds up. This can feel uncomfortable to some cats, and they will scoot in an attempt to put pressure on the glands and get them to release their contents. I’ve had the unbridled joy of expressing their anal glands for them. Thank goodness for latex exam gloves.
One thing we all love about cats is that they are self-cleaning. They are obsessive about keeping their body parts clean, and that includes all body parts. However, some cats do need help keeping that particular region clean. Long-haired cats are more susceptible to getting stool caught on the fur around their anus, and overweight or arthritic cats may have flexibility issues that preclude proper grooming. In general, elderly cats become less fastidious as they age and may experience more soiling in their anal area.
Cats who can’t keep their anal area clean are at increased risk of urinary tract infections. This is especially true in females as the anus is located fairly close to the opening of the urinary tract. Removing stool stuck to the fur can sometimes be difficult. A flea comb (a metal comb with teeth that are very close together) is best at it. If the fur is soiled and wet because of diarrhea, abandon the comb idea; your cat needs a bath. Overweight cats with this problem need to be put on a weight-control program. Arthritic cats can be given medication or supplements to address the condition and make them more limber. Long-haired cats can have their rear ends shaved (at our hospital, we use the delicate term “sanitary clip”) to prevent the problem from occurring.
Fortunately, cat butt problems are a minor issue in cats. But, there are some conditions that can be serious, such as infections, tumors and anal gland abscesses. If your cat is spending an inordinate amount of time fussing with his butt, or if something just doesn’t look right, seek veterinary attention promptly — no but(t)s about it.
Thumbnail: Photography by Shutterstock.
Read more about cat butts and cat tails on Catster.com:
Dr. Arnold Plotnick is the founder of Manhattan Cat Specialists, a feline-exclusive veterinary practice on Manhattan’s upper west side. He is also an author of The Original Cat Fancy Cat Bible. Dr. Plotnick is a frequent contributor to feline publications and websites, including his own blog, Cat Man Do. He lives in New York City with his cats, Mittens and Glitter.