Many dogs will become constipated at some point in their lives. Although constipation is not extremely common in dogs, it is usually a minor health problem that can be dealt with fairly easily. Most pet owners have detailed knowledge of their pet's bathroom habits as an unfortunate side effect of all the poop scooping you're required to do. As a result, it's fairly obvious when your furry friend falls off its "regular" routine.
Why Do Dogs Become Constipated?
If your dog is constipated, you may notice it straining to have a bowel movement. If your pet is able to defecate, the stool will likely be hard and dry, potentially small and pebble-like. When a dog is constipated, its appetite may decrease, and it may even begin vomiting.
If you notice a decrease in the regularity of your dog's bowel movements, it could be a sign that constipation is developing. It is very important that you contact your veterinarian as soon as possible if you notice one or more of the following signs in your dog:
- Two or more days without a bowel movement
- Difficulty urinating, straining to urinate, or inability to urinate
- Pain or distress, such as crying out when trying to defecate or standing with a hunched posture
- Blood in the stool or passing blood without stool
- Any worsening signs of illness, such as vomiting, lethargy, lack of appetite
- Other signs that cause you to become concerned
There are many different things that can cause a dog to become constipated. The following are some of the potential reasons:
- Dehydration (more common)
- Dietary indiscretion (eating something inappropriate)
- Foreign body obstruction (grass, hair, rocks, cloth, pieces of a toy, etc.)
- Obstruction due to abnormal tissue growth (tumor, polyp, congenital malformation)
- Gastrointestinal motility disorder
- Enlarged prostate (male dogs)
- Medication side effects
- Matted hair covering anus
- Orthopedic or neurological problem
- Immobility or extremely sedentary lifestyle
There may be other reasons for your dog's constipation. In some cases, constipation resolves without anyone figuring out the cause.
When it comes to dog health, remember that your veterinarian is always the best source of information. If you notice mild constipation in your dog, though, you can try a few things at home first to give your pet some relief.
If your dog is straining to defecate, make sure your pet has not been having diarrhea. The urgency to continue defecating is common after dogs have diarrhea. Home methods for constipation will only make things worse if your dog is actually having diarrhea.
The following simple changes may help your dog start defecating normally again:
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Adding moisture to your dog's body is usually the key to resolving constipation. Try adding water or low-sodium chicken broth to your dog's food. Alternatively, if your dog usually eats dry food only, you can try feeding good-quality canned food. Try getting the canned version of his current diet if it's available, but any quality canned food should be acceptable as long as your dog does not have food allergies or sensitivities. Instead of canned food, you can try adding green beans, sweet potatoes, or a tablespoon of canned pumpkin (plain, not pie filling) to your dog's kibble with the water or broth.
- Movement gets things moving. Sometimes all it takes to get your dog's bowels to move is for your dog to be active. If your dog is healthy enough to exercise, take your dog for a nice long walk or provide another type of moderate to vigorous exercise. Regular activity is a great way to prevent constipation in senior dogs or dogs with a tendency to get backed up.
- Skip the enema. Do not attempt to give your dog an enema at home unless instructed to do so by your veterinarian.
If your dog passes stool, the first bowel movement may contain hard, dry stool. After that, it is not uncommon for dogs to end up with soft stools for a day or two. If your dog develops watery diarrhea or any other issues, take him to the vet.
In addition to the above actions, you may wish to try a natural remedy or over-the-counter medication before going to the vet. Do not give these home treatments if your dog had diarrhea before straining. Note that it's best to choose only one method. Using multiple remedies at once can make things worse. Call your vet's office to get the correct dosage for your dog before trying over-the-counter medications. Consider trying one of the following things at home:
- Olive oil or coconut oil: A tablespoon added to the food may help lubricate things.
- Fish oil: liquid or capsules
- Slippery elm (herbal supplement)
- Fiber supplement (Metamucil, etc.): Add to food with plenty of water. Use an unflavored variety with no added sweetener
- Stool softener/laxative (DSS/Colace or Miralax)
- Bran flakes (100 percent bran cereal): Can be added to food with water.
Seeing the Vet for Diagnosis and Treatment
If your dog's constipation does not improve with the above tips within about a day, then it's time to go to your family veterinarian. After getting a thorough history, your vet will perform a physical examination, including abdominal palpation to feel for stool in the colon.
Your vet may recommend radiographs (X-rays) to see if your dog is constipated and determine the severity of it. Excess stool can be easily seen on radiographs, which may reveal an obstruction if there is one, but these do not always show up.
Depending on your dog's age and the exam findings, your vet may also recommend lab work to assess your dog's organ function, electrolyte balance, blood cell counts, and more.
If your dog is truly constipated, your vet may recommend an enema to remove the backed-up stool. Subcutaneous fluids may also be recommended in order to hydrate your dog. In addition, your vet may prescribe a medication like lactulose to help your dog with bowel movements.
Most dogs do not need to be admitted to the hospital for constipation. Usually, the treatments can be done in a couple of hours and your dog can return home for the night. If your dog is very dehydrated or has other medical problems, it may need intravenous fluids and/or additional treatments that require hospitalization.
If your dog has persistent or recurrent bouts of constipation, your veterinarian will work to determine the cause and best course of treatment. In some cases, you may be referred to a veterinary specialist for a second opinion, advanced diagnostics, or specialized treatments.
How to Prevent Constipation in Dogs
If your dog is generally healthy, there are some simple steps you can take to prevent constipation.
- Hydration is key to your dog's digestive health. Be sure your pet always has access to clean water, especially in hot weather or after exercise.
- A high-fiber diet is important for digestive health; check the contents of your dog's food and check with the vet to be sure your pet has enough fiber.
- Dogs need regular exercise, and some breeds need more than others. It's easy to settle for the shortest possible walks on cold days, but this can have a negative impact on your pet's digestion.
- Natural bones can sometimes lead to constipation; if your dog is prone to constipation, consider choosing a nylon chew toy.
- If your dog is prone to constipation, ask your vet to show you how to feel your dog's abdomen to quickly identify hardened stool. This will make it easier to know when it's time to visit the vet—thus allowing you to nip a potential problem in the bud.