Why is my cat dragging his butt across the floor?

Dear Sinéad and Siouxsie,
This is kind of a random question, but my cat occasionally will kind of drag himself across the floor or the couch or bed on his butt, as if it itches or feels dirty or something. It's usually a very short-lived behavior that doesn't leave any marks or anything behind and it doesn't happen very often. I was just curious if this is a typical cat behavior and what it might mean.


Sinéad: Laura, it sounds like your cat is having issues with his anal glands.

Siouxsie: We cats (and dogs, too) have little glands near our anuses that secrete scent marking oils. Usually the oils that are created in these glands are expelled without any problems.

Sinéad: But occasionally the glands get plugged up with waxy oils. That creates discomfort, which cats and dogs relieve by "scooting" across the floor.

Siouxsie: The oil expressed by the anal glands is considered by humans to be rather offensive in odor. Well, OK, it does kind of stink, but it serves its purpose that way!

Sinéad: If your cat's anal glands get full, you can take him to the vet and the vet (or more likely a vet tech) will express the gunk out of them for you. Some groomers do this service, too.

Siouxsie: If this happens regularly, it will save you a lot of money if you learn how to express your cat's anal glands yourself. It's a dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it!

Sinéad: There are anal gland problems that are more serious than basic "fullness," though. Sometimes, a cat's anal glands can become impacted--the waxy material that collects in the glands' opening gets so hard that the fluid cannot be expelled without surgical intervention. Infections and even tumors can develop, too. But these are more common in older cats.

Siouxsie: Prevention is really the best remedy for anal gland problems. Some authorities say that in order to keep the anal glands functioning properly, cats need to have "hard" poops. That would imply your cat could benefit from higher-fiber foods or more dry food in his diet.

Sinéad: That's right. If his stools are too soft, they're not going to press hard enough on the anal glands to get the fluid out.

Siouxsie: We do recommend that you take your cat to a veterinarian the next time he has such a problem. Your vet will be able to recommend other prevention strategies.

Sinéad: Recurring anal gland problems are a warning sign that these issues may become more serious over time, so keep an eye on your cat's bottom! Hee hee hee!

Siouxsie: The About.com cat health issues forum has more information on anal gland problems, and some visual illustrations of where the anal glands are located.

Sinéad: Before we leave you this week, we want to ask Mama to tell you about something she wrote in her LiveJournal this week about helping stray and feral cats.

JaneA: Sure, ladies. It all started with a seasonal song called "The Cat Carol" by Meryn Cadell. This song makes me cry every time I hear it, partly because it reminds me that there are many homeless cats in this country who need love and care. So I'm hoping that if you read this you'll ponder the situation of homeless cats in your neighborhood. Particularly here in the northern US, where the cold and snow make it hard for feral cats to forage and find adequate shelter, there are things cat-lovers and concerned people can do to help them.

One thing you can do is make shelters for feral cats. These are low-cost, low-effort projects and can help save feral cats' lives. This version of a feral cat shelter uses Styrofoam packing crates of the type you can get from restaurants. Neighborhood Cats and Alley Cat Allies are two other organizations that advocate for feral cats, support TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) programs for feral cats in an effort to control the feral population, and offer instruction and support for people interested in assisting feral cat colonies. There's even a Feral Cat Blog that features news about feral cats from around the US and the world and a huge array of links for people interested in helping feral cats.

One of the people who replied to my post worked at a food pantry and network for homeless people. She told me that many of the homeless humans she saw would ask if they'd received donations of cat or dog food they could give to "their" homeless animal friends. I think that speaks really strongly for the human spirit and the fact that compassion lives on in all of us, no matter how desperate our circumstances. These homeless people face starvation, hypothermia and disease every day, and yet they care enough about other living creatures to want to help them, too. Maybe we can all learn a lesson from them.

Got a question? Need some advice? E-mail Sinéad and Siouxsie at advice@paws-and-effect.com. None of the advice in this column is meant to be a substitute for regular veterinary care.