Dr. Bonnie Jones The start of every veterinary examination should include a commitment to conduct a thorough “nose to tail” inspection of the patient. This comprehensive approach prevents overlooking subtle problems besides the obvious current complaint. The end point of every one of my examinations is literally the pet's “endpoint,” the tail and butt area. (Yes, I really am going to teach you about your pet's anal area!)What prompts me to broach this subject is an up-tick in malignant tumors associated with the anal glands diagnosed by veterinarians today. The greatest concern with these tumors is they are commonly overlooked by pet owners because they begin as inwardly growing tumors that are not apparent unless you know where to look for them. Veterinarians are trained to visualize and palpate the area around the anus called the “perineum,” to identify multiple abnormalities, including, but not limited to tumors.Veterinary medicine requires an understanding of normal anatomy before “abnormals” or disease may be diagnosed. Pet owners, too, can become skilled at recognizing their pet's “normals” by conducting a brief daily exam of their pets. Once you are familiar with your pet's body, recognizing a problem early, when it is more treatable, becomes an easier task.Simply lift your pet's tail daily and look for the following around the anus that may indicate a problem: raised, fleshy or black skin growths; grey discoloration of the anus; red or blister-like lesions next to the bottom of the anus, inflamed cracks or “tracts” extending from the anus; fecal soiling; matted hair; and tapeworm segments (egg packets that look like rice or sesame seeds). See your veterinarian immediately if you note any of the above.Next, use your fingers to press on your pet's perianal skin to feel for soft or hard bumps representing tumors lurking under the skin. While the majority of obvious perianal skin tumors diagnosed by sight are benign, malignant tumors usually require greater “hands-on” attention to detect them. Ask your veterinarian to show you how to examine this area at your pet's next visit.By far, the most common perianal problem addressed by veterinarians is “full” anal glands that cause cats and dogs to do what I call “the boot-scootin' boogie.” You've seen it before ... your pet sits his bottom squarely on your most valued flooring, then proceeds to drag or scoot it in a linear fashion. Some pets will do a twirling routine followed by a quick lick or sniff of their butt afterward ... yuck!Essentially, what your pet is doing is expressing anal gland secretions, a musky, foul-smelling liquid or paste, that accumulates in the small glands inside the rectum at 5 o'clock and 7 o'clock positions. Dogs and cats should “pump” their tails after bowel movements to express this material on to their stool. It's a personal “signature,” if you will, and their way of telling other pets that “Buffy” or “Tiger” was here.When pets do not efficiently empty these glands, often because they are over-weight, small in stature, or have short or no tails, this substance accumulates in the glands. Over time the build-up becomes irritating, prompting the “boot-scootin' boogie.” Heed your pet's signal and see your veterinarian as soon at this butt dance begins to prevent the formation of a painful, anal gland abscess.Another increasingly common anal problem is infection of the anal skin secondary to allergies, usually to the pet's own food. One might assume that the pet needs frequent anal gland expression associated with a persistent “butt itch,” when in reality Fido has a yeast skin infection of the anus that is really uncomfortable. Your veterinarian will recommend a food trial, along with treatment of the infection, to eliminate repeat episodes.The importance of regular examinations of your pet's bottom cannot be over-emphasized. Besides identifying tumors, full anal glands, and allergic disease, you could identify an intestinal parasite or diarrhea problem for your pet just by looking at the area daily. Matted rectal hair and fecal soiling is not only unhygienic and unsightly, but also very uncomfortable for your pet. By finding your pet's perianal problem, especially tapeworms and infectious diarrheas promptly, you will protect your family members' health as well.You will never be the “butt” of any joke if you conduct a daily “nose to tail” examination of your pet. Your health and that of your pet depend on it.Dr. Bonnie Jones is co-owner of Delphos Animal Hospital which she operates with her husband, John H. Jones, DVM . She was valedictorian and Outstanding Senior Clinician of The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine Class of 1985. Dr. Bonnie dedicates this column to “Rocky” Lambert-Messer and “Riley” Michel, beloved pets of very special pet owners.