Constipation in dogs is one of several gastrointestinal issues pet owners face. Just like humans, dogs can experience discomfort and pain caused by an irregular bowel movement.
Constipation occurs when there is a problem with the digestive system.
The process of digestion begins the moment dogs put food in their mouths and begin chewing.
The breakdown of food in the stomach, intestinal absorption of nutrients, and the passage of normal bowel movements.
Constipation results when something blocks or slows that process. On the flip side, a digestive problem can lead to the opposite problem – diarrhea.
Dogs become constipated for a number of reasons, and in this post, we’re going to cover 15 common causes, including signs to watch for.
We’ve also included what it’s involved in diagnosis and treatment options, including those you can try at home.
Dogs Most Susceptible to Constipation
The reality is that any dog can suffer from constipation. Older dogs, however, may be at higher risk. There are a few reasons for this.
- Elderly dogs with joint pain or underlying health issues may not be able to engage in vigorous activity, which can make the bowel sluggish and slow.
Regular physical activity helps stimulate the gut. It speeds up intestinal activity which, in turn, reduces digestive problems.
- Underlying conditions can also cause problems like dehydration, which can trigger constipation.
If an older dog (or any dog!) has a painful orthopedic issue, it might simply be too painful to crouch.
- Spinal pain, back pain, orthopedic issues in the legs, and post-surgical recovery can leave dogs struggling to defecate properly.
Puppies can also become constipated
Puppies can become constipated as well, and the reasons are similar to those of a much older dog. Swallowing foreign objects can cause a bowel blockage.
Stress (kennel, strange surroundings, etc.) can upset the digestive system, and improperly groomed dogs are all at risk.
Breeds with a higher incidence of constipation
While constipation can occur in any dog breed, some breeds may be more susceptible. Brachycephalic breeds, for example, are prone to digestive problems.
The following breeds may have a higher predisposition to constipation. That said, it’s important to note that individual factors such as diet, exercise, hydration, and overall health all play a role.
- Bulldog breeds (English bulldog, French bulldog, etc.)
Again, any dog can become constipated at some point in their lives. The important thing is to get medical care if the constipation lasts more than two days.
There are some dietary changes you can make that may help relieve your dog.
However, don’t administer anything like enemas or laxatives until you know the cause of the constipation. This requires a definitive diagnosis from a licensed veterinarian.
Signs of Constipation in Dogs
Occasional constipation in dogs can be caused by a number of things. Anything from a change in diet to dehydration can cause it. Sometimes, as you’ll read later in this post, constipation may be a sign of something more serious, like an intestinal blockage.
Healthy dogs defecate (poop) at least once a day. Healthy stool should be brown and soft, but still hold its shape.
Signs of constipation in dogs include:
- Infrequent bowel movements
- Signs of discomfort (crying, whining)
- Small and dry stools
- Hard stools
- Loss of appetite
- Unproductive straining
- The dog may pass mucus when trying to poop
- Some dogs will scoot their bums on the ground, circle around, and squat frequently
Dogs with constipation may have a tense or painful abdomen as well.
The Risks of Untreated Constipation
Pet parents should understand that the inability to pass feces, or pain associated with bowel movements could be a medical emergency.
If constipation in dogs is left untreated, it can cause an uncomfortably large amount of feces to build-up in the colon. At this stage, dogs can get to a point where they’re unable to empty their bowels on their own.
This condition is called obstipation.
When to go to the veterinarian
Not sure if you should bring your constipated dog to the vet? Severe symptoms of constipation (see below) are a good indication that it’s time for a veterinary check-up:
- Discomfort (pacing, straining, panting, licking the belly)
- Distended belly
If your dog hasn’t pooped for more than 3 days, it’s time to see the vet.
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15 Common Causes of Constipation in Dogs by Lisa Theriault
15 Common Causes of Constipation in Dogs
Dogs can become constipated for a number of reasons. As you’ll see in the list below, some causes could be medical emergencies that require the care of a licensed veterinarian.
Please remember that this post is for informational purposes only and is not designed to take the place of medical advice.
Not enough fiber
Fiber acts as a bulking agent in the intestines. Lack of fiber in the diet can cause stool to become dry and hard. This makes it hard for the dog to pass.
Medication side effect
Medications that can cause constipation in dogs include antihistamines, antacids, diuretics, and iron supplements.
Dogs that don’t get enough exercise can suffer from constipation. Regular exercise helps stimulate the muscles in the gastrointestinal tract. Lack of exercise can slow down intestinal motility.
Too much fiber
Dogs that get too much fiber can develop constipation if they don’t consume enough water to compensate for the added bulk.
Impacted anal glands
The anal glands are two small sacs that are located between the internal and external anal sphincter muscles. These sacs release an oily secretion that pet parents describe as smelling “fishy”.
When a dog poops, pressure is exerted on these anal glands, causing them to express their contents.
Problems with the anal glands could lead to secondary infection and inflammation.
The pain and discomfort of this may cause a dog to delay bowel movements. Dogs that hold their poop too long could end up constipated.
Read: 5 Step Method to Externally Express a Dog’s Anal Glands
Constipation in dogs can be caused by underlying health issues. These include:
- Enlarged prostate
- Gastointestinal motility disorder
- Central nervous system disorder
- Orthopedic problems that cause pain
- Spinal injuries
- Kidney disease
Excessive grooming could cause large amounts of hair to collect in the stool.
Some dogs, especially puppies, like to put things in their mouths. Unfortunately, a foreign object can cause a dangerous blockage of the intestinal tract.
Foreign images can include anything from pieces of toys to string (or anything else a dog can swallow!).
In this case, medical intervention is necessary. If you suspect your dog has swallowed something they shouldn’t, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Intestinal blockages may require urgent surgery.
Read this post for more information on bowel obstructions in dogs: 5 Reasons for Bowel Obstruction Surgery in Dogs.
Sudden dietary changes
Sudden dietary changes can be hard on the gastrointestinal tract. As a result, your dog may develop temporary constipation.
Conservative treatment for dogs with pelvic trauma (like a fracture) involves narrowing the pelvic canal. Severe narrowing of the pelvic canal can result in constipation.
Neurological disorders can cause constipation in dogs due to impaired nerve signaling, altered reflexes, weakness or paralysis, and sensory dysfunction.
The pain and discomfort caused by orthopedic issues can make it difficult for a dog to assume the appropriate position for defecation. As a result, the dog may try to hold back from fully emptying the bowel.
An enlarged prostate may compress the colon. This can lead to difficulty passing stool.
Enlarged prostate is common in intact male dogs. Causes include benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), prostatic cysts, prostate cancer, and prostate infections.
Pseudocoprostasis (matted hair around the anus)
This can happen in severe circumstances where the dog has difficulty grooming himself and the problem isn’t rectified.
Fur and feces become entwined to create what’s known as a “fecal mat”. This can happen to long-haired dogs or cats that have recently had a bout of diarrhea.
Treatment involves washing the matted area with warm water. It may take a bit to loosen the hardened feces. Once the mass loosens up, you can shave or clip the hair around the anus.
Tumor or Mass
A tumor or mass in the intestine could physically block stool from passing. In addition, some tumors can cause narrowing of the intestine, making it difficult to pass stool.
In some cases, tumors may impact nerve function and lead to constipation.
Diagnosis of Constipation in Dogs
In order to diagnosis constipation, and what might be causing it, a veterinarian will usually conduct a full physical exam.
They may ask about your dog’s dietary habits, exercise routine, and any recent changes in the dog’s environment. Other diagnostic tests that may be performed include:
- Blood tests
- Rectal examination
- Imaging (abdominal ultrasound)
- Complex or severe cases may require endoscopy
Treating Constipation in Dogs
The ultimate treatment chosen for dogs with constipation will depend on the underlying cause, severity of symptoms, and overall health of the dog.
A few options could include:
The veterinarian may recommend adding dietary fiber to your dog’s diet. Canned pumpkin (not canned pumpkin pie filling) is often recommended.
Start by adding a small amount to the dog’s regular meals and gradually increase the quantity, if required.
The veterinarian may suggest other high-fiber foods.
It’s always important to make sure your dog has access to clean water at all times. If your dog has an underlying condition, like kidney disease, consult a veterinarian for ways to keep your dog hydrated.
Adequate hydration can help soften the stool, making it easier to pass.
Regular exercise can help stimulate intestinal motility. If your dog is suffering from a painful, underlying medical condition, ask the veterinarian for safe exercise alternatives.
Swimming if often a good choice because it’s easier on the joints.
Medications and Laxatives
The veterinarian will want to loosen or remove any impacted or hardened fecal matter. This can be accomplished with one or multiple therapies.
Medications like dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate (DSS) or lactulose are often prescribed.
In order to remove impacted fecal matter, an enema may be required. Some dogs may need to be hospitalized for this procedure, especially if they require fluids to correct dehydration.
Administering enemas should only be done under the guidance and supervision of a veterinarian. This is a medical procedure that involves introducing fluid into the rectum. The fluid should stimulate bowel movements and relieve constipation.
Veterinarians have specialized equipment designed for this and will take into account the specific needs of your dog. Performing the procedure yourself puts the dog at risk for injury.
Over-the-counter stool softeners or laxatives designed for dogs may be used in mild cases of constipation.
That said, it’s still important to consult with your veterinarian before administering any medication to your dog.
Addressing the Underlying Cause
The most important thing to resolve constipation in dogs is to diagnose and manage any underlying causes. Sometimes it’s just a matter of tweaking your dog’s diet and ensuring your dog gets adequate water intake.
Other times, there could be something more serious going on with the digestive tract that needs further evaluation. In situations like this, over-the-counter laxatives won’t help.
Home Remedies for Constipated Dogs
Dog owners like us can’t always afford to run to the veterinarian, especially for minor problems.
There are some things you can try at home, provided your dog isn’t showing signs of pain or distress (see bowel blockages in dogs).
Some dog owners have added a small amount of coconut oil to their dog’s food dish.
Coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids such as lauric acid which can provide antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Start by introducing a small amount into your dog’s diet. For example, you might start with 1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon per day, depending on your dog’s size. If your dog has any digestive upset with it, reduce the amount.
Coconut oil can also be used to massage into a dog’s fur (great for dry skin) because it’s safe if the dog licks it off.
Olive oil is considered safe for dogs in moderation. It is a good source of monounsaturated fats and contains antioxidants.
Start with a small amount and incorporate it into the dog’s regular meal. It’s better to be conservative and monitor your dog’s response. For example, you might try 1/4 to 1 teaspoon per day, depending on the size of your dog.
Coconut oil and olive oil have lubricating properties and potentially mild laxative effects. The fats can help lubricate the digestive tract, making it easier for stools to pass through the intestines.
If you do not see any improvement within 2 – 3 days, consult a veterinarian. Also, signs of great pain or discomfort could indicate your dog has a blockage. That is a medical emergency.
The suggestions in this post are not meant to take the place of medical advice.
Please see a veterinarian if the constipation is severe, there are other concerning symptoms (vomiting, loss of appetite, etc.), or if the dog has any underlying health concerns.
The best way to avoid constipation in dogs is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Ensure your dog has a quality, high-fiber diet, adequate hydration, gets regular exercise, and maintains a consistent bathroom break routine.
Regular veterinary check ups can go a long way in identifying underlying health concerns before they become a big problem.
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