Constipation refers to the difficult, less frequent than the normal passage of dry, hard feces. If defecation is delayed and feces remain in the colon for two or three days, too much moisture is removed from the colon, which makes elimination painful.
A constipated puppy may squat and strain unproductively for long periods of time. Ongoing constipation may result in a loss of appetite and the puppy losing weight or not gaining appropriately. When the condition becomes chronic, the bowel lining may become inflamed which stimulates a release of dark fluid that accompanies the hard, dry fecal matter. This can be confused with diarrhea. While somewhat normal, learn why and how to treat constipation.
Causes of Constipation in Puppies
Puppies may become constipated for a variety of reasons, including swallowed objects. Besides the danger of puncture, swallowed fragments can turn feces into cement-like masses that block the colon. Puppies are notorious for chewing and swallowing nondigestible objects like paper, sticks, grass, and cloth, which tend to turn into wads that cause impaction. Rawhide chews, if eaten in excess, promote constipation.
Diets high in meat with little fiber produce stools that are smaller. sticky, and difficult to pass.
Stress can also influence the condition. Puppies boarded or in strange surroundings may voluntarily delay defecation and become constipated. It’s important during your puppy’s socialization that it learns to defecate on a variety of surfaces, from grass and dirt to pavement (which is often found in boarding situations).
Poor grooming, especially of long-haired puppies may also promote constipation. Some breeds such as Pomeranians can suffer from hairballs, just like cats, when they nibble themselves and swallow fur. Other times, fur beneath the tail mats with feces and causes anal inflammation that results in painful defecation. Mats may even cause an external blockage that interferes with normal defecation. Keep puppies well groomed and the anal region of long-haired puppies clipped to prevent mats from developing.
Constipation in Adult Dogs
Adult dogs can suffer constipation for all the same reasons as a puppy, plus a few more. So if your baby dog has problems now, be aware of these issues in the future as well. Prostatitis can develop in unneutered males. The prostate swells and blocks the colon in the pelvic region. Rectal exams should be part of the annual exam for intact males over five years of age. Tumors of the prostate or rectum or perianal region also can cause constipation. Constipation can also be a sign of kidney disease or diabetes; with either condition, there is excessive urine production which prompts the colon to conserve water. That causes a dry stool that can lead to constipation. Finally, elderly dogs commonly suffer bouts of constipation, which may be due to a combination of weak abdominal muscles, reduced exercise, or improper diet.
See your veterinarian right away if your puppy has not defecated in more than two days and if the dog strains, crouches, or cries when trying to defecate. Your vet will want to rule out urinary tract infection, which may have some of the same symptoms or occur at the same time.
Laxatives may be helpful, but human medications can be dangerous and should only be given with veterinary approval. Veterinary-approved stimulant laxatives are available, but shouldn't be overused or they may interfere with normal colon function. Your veterinarian may prescribe enemas or suppositories; ask for a demonstration before attempting to administer these treatments yourself or you risk injuring the puppy. Many times, evacuating the colon requires a veterinarian's help and often the puppy must be sedated. Your dog’s pain could translate into snaps or bites at you when you’re only trying to help.
Home Treatments for Puppy Constipation
Treating constipation must address the specific cause to be effective, but in general, treatment for canine constipation is the same as for people. Feeding a diet containing seven to 13 percent fiber (look on the pet food label), drinking lots of water, and a regular exercise regimen (a daily 20-minute walk) is beneficial, as is increasing the puppy’s exercise. Here are some other tips:
- Add milk: Mild cases of constipation may benefit from temporarily adding milk to the diet, which has a laxative effect in some dogs. Give your small puppy 1/8 cup twice a day, and a large puppy 1/2 cup twice a day until regular again.
- Bulk them up: Metamucil-type products contain cellulose ingredients which attract water and add bulk to the stool. Mix non-flavored Metamucil with your puppy's food; one teaspoon twice a day for small pups, and two to three teaspoons twice a day for large pups is helpful.
- Add natural fiber: Bran cereals and canned pumpkin or squash are natural sources of fiber that also work well and puppies seem to like the flavor. To promote regularity, add 1/2 teaspoon to your small puppy's food, or about 2 tablespoons to the big puppy's diet. Get the canned (plain) pumpkin, divide into these small doses on a cookie sheet or ice cube tray, and freeze. Then you can thaw and offer as treats when needed.
- Give healthy chews: For pups that relish vegetable snacks, offer a stick or two of carrot or celery. The fiber and liquid help reduce constipation and also gives your puppy an outlet for chewing urges. Don't give your puppy bones, and offer rawhide treats only if it chews but doesn't swallow them.
How to Prevent Constipation
While constipation is not completely preventable, there are a number of things you can do to help prevent it occurring in your puppy. Maintaining a fiber-rich diet, providing ample water, and a lot of exercise throughout the day can help regulate digestion. Make sure your puppy is properly groomed (especially long-haired breeds). If you notice any constipation or strained stools, take action right away to prevent constipation from getting worse.