Constipation in Dogs

Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Dog Constipation and How to Treat It

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Constipation in dogs is not as common as you think but it can occur. Sometimes, it can be mild and resolve quickly on its own. Other times, constipation in dogs can be serious and related to important underlying medical conditions.

What is Constipation

Constipation is the inability to pass stool in a normal, comfortable way and on a daily basis. If your dog does pass some stool, but with difficulty, it is also considered constipation.

Symptoms of Constipation in Dogs

If you regularly walk your dog, you are likely aware of your pet's bathroom habits so it will be fairly obvious if there's a problem. If your dog is constipated and there are additional worsening signs of illness, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Here are symptoms of constipation to look for:

Symptoms


  • Decreased or no bowel movements
  • Pebble-like stool
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Straining to defecate
  • Blood in the stool
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite


Decreased or No Bowel Movements

If you notice a decrease in the regularity of your dog's bowel movements, it could be a sign that constipation is developing. If your dog goes two or more days without a bowel movement, that's a sure sign of constipation.

Difficulty Urinating

A constipated dog may also strain to urinate. It might even have the inability to urinate, which can also be mistaken for a urinary tract infection. You will likely see your dog in an odd position trying to urinate, as well. If your dog is not passing stool or urine, call your vet as soon as possible.

Straining to Defecate

If your dog is constipated, you may notice it straining to have a bowel movement. Your dog may be constipated if it is crying out when trying to defecate or standing with an oddly hunched posture when it is trying to move its bowels. 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 has diarrhea.

Pebble-Like Stool

If your pet can defecate, a constipated dog's stool will likely be hard and dry, potentially small, and pebble-like. Stool that stays in the digestive tract for longer than normal will become more difficult to pass.

Blood in the Stool

Your dog may be constipated if it is passing blood in the stool. A constipated dog can also strain so hard that it will pass blood without the stool. That's likely because the straining has caused small blood vessels to break and leak liquid. This also happens in dogs that have bloody diarrhea.

Vomiting

When a dog is constipated, it can begin to vomit due to any number of causes, but potentially because there is an indigestible object or something intertwined with fecal matter lodged in its intestines.

Lethargy

The strain of trying to defecate can make a dog tired and it will become lethargic and less enthusiastic to play or move around.

Lack of Appetite

Your dog may feel bloated or full if it is constipated. It will not want to eat because trying to digest food will only add to the dog's discomfort.

Causes of Constipation

Many different things can cause a dog to become constipated. In some cases, constipation resolves without anyone figuring out the cause. The following are some of the potential reasons for your dog's problem:

  • Dehydration
  • Dietary indiscretion (eating something inappropriate)
  • Foreign body obstruction (e.g., grass, hair, rocks, cloth, pieces of a toy)
  • Obstruction due to abnormal tissue growth (tumor, polyp, congenital malformation)
  • Gastrointestinal motility disorder
  • Enlarged prostate (male dogs)
  • Medication side effects
  • Matted hair covering the anus
  • Orthopedic or neurological problem
  • Immobility or extremely sedentary lifestyle

Diagnosing Constipation in Dogs

If your dog's constipation does not improve or resolve itself within about a day, then it's time to go to your 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, and blood cell counts.

Treatment

Your veterinarian is always the best source of information but if you notice mild constipation in your dog, you can try a few things at home first to give your pet some relief, including the following simple changes that may help your dog start defecating normally again:

  • Hydration: Hydration is key to your dog's digestive health. 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.
  • Canned food: Alternatively, if your dog usually eats dry food only, you can try feeding good-quality canned food. Try getting the canned version of its 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.
  • Natural ingredients: Instead of canned food, try adding green beans, sweet potatoes, or a tablespoon of canned pumpkin (plain, not pie filling) to your dog's kibble with water or broth.
  • Exercise: Sometimes all it takes to get your dog's bowels to move is activity. 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 also a good way to prevent constipation that may be typical in senior dogs.

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 as a result of home remedies, take your pet to the vet for treatment. Usually, the treatments at the vet's office can be done in a couple of hours and your dog can return home for the night. Here are some treatments that your vet may provide after the diagnosis:

  • Enema: If your dog is truly constipated, your vet may recommend an enema to remove the backed-up stool. Do not attempt to give your dog an enema at home unless instructed to do so by your veterinarian. Do not give your dog human laxatives, which are dangerous to animals.
  • Subcutaneous fluids: Hydration in the form of subcutaneous fluids will be administered to give your dog relief.
  • Medication: Your vet may prescribe a medication like lactulose to help your dog with bowel movements.
  • Hospitalization: Most dogs do not need to be admitted to the hospital for constipation. If your dog is very dehydrated or has other medical problems, it may need intravenous fluids and/or additional treatments that require hospitalization.

Prognosis for Dogs With Constipation

If your dog's constipation is not responding to treatment (obstipation) or has persistent, recurrent bouts of constipation, your veterinarian will work to determine the cause and best course of treatment. Sometimes this may include surgery. You also 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.

  • Water: Give your pet constant access to clean water, especially in hot weather or after exercise, for appropriate hydration.
  • Fiber: Plan a high-fiber diet for your dog's digestive health. Check the contents of your dog's food and check with the vet to be sure your pet has enough fiber.
  • Exercise: Give your dog enough exercise. 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 frequently doing this can harm your pet's digestion.
  • Toys: Limit natural bones, which can sometimes lead to constipation if broken fragments become lodged in the dog's intestine. If your dog is prone to constipation, consider choosing a fairly indestructible nylon chew toy.
  • Observation: Evaluate your dog's stool and bathroom habits regularly so you can be aware of any changes.
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.