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Help: My Dog Has Constipation

Written by Ella White

Updated

dog pooping in the sunshine

If your dog is struggling to poop, or if they’re pooping less frequently than usual and producing harder, dryer stools, then they might be suffering from constipation. Like humans, dogs can suffer from being ‘blocked up’ and it's just as uncomfortable and distressing for them as it is for us.

In this article, we’ll look at what constipation is, what causes constipation in dogs, how to treat dogs with constipation, and more.

What Is Constipation In Dogs?

Constipation is usually a temporary condition that makes it hard to pass feces. In dogs, constipation will cause them to strain when trying to poop, and if they do manage to pass anything it might be very hard and smaller in quantity than usual.

It can be caused by dehydration or when the colon does not absorb enough water, leading to hard, dry stool that is difficult to pass. It is then retained in the colon and can become blocked. Sometimes, dogs will be able to pass small amounts of hard feces. They might also produce liquid feces that is able to pass around the hard mass in the colon.

What Causes Constipation In Dogs?

To produce stools, fecal matter moves through the digestive tract to the colon which absorbs water and electrolytes before it is passed. If the process of moving through the colon is disrupted, stool can become blocked here and will slowly have too much moisture absorbed from it, making it almost impossible to pass.

There are a number of factors that can cause the peristaltic waves that move feces through the colon to slow down, leading to constipation:

  • Ingesting indigestible substances and objects, like hair, can cause an intraluminal blockage in the colon
  • Tumors in the digestive tract and pelvis can cause extraluminal blockages outside the colon
  • Dehydration
  • A poor diet that’s low in fiber can disrupt the digestive process and cause blockage
  • Issues with the anal gland and prostate
  • Imbalanced electrolytes
  • Stress and anxiety can lead dogs to ‘hold it in’
  • Older dogs are more prone to constipation
  • Under exercised dogs are more prone to constipation
  • Some medications can cause constipation
  • Hormonal diseases like hypothyroidism and hyperparathyroidism

How Do I Know If My Dog Is Constipated?

The easiest way to spot whether your dog is constipated is to take note of how often they poop on a normal day. For most dogs, this will be at least once or twice, and for many it will correspond with how often they are fed.

When you know how often they should poop, it’s easy to notice when they are not pooping enough. When they do try to go, a constipated dog will strain and appear uncomfortable and in pain, without passing any stool. 

They will probably squat and circle a few times trying unsuccessfully to go. They might also scoot their behind along the floor, pass small amounts of liquid feces, and growl or cry out if you try to touch their stomach. Constipated dogs might also lose their appetite and in turn lose weight, and vomit. 

Should I Take My Constipated Dog to the Vet?

If your dog has not passed a normal stool for 48-72 hours, seek veterinary attention. As well as being painful and distressing for your dog, constipation can also be a symptom of a more serious disease.

Obstipation, or chronic constipation which leads to a mass of dry fecal matter building up inside the colon, is a serious issue that can lead to megacolon, where the colon distends and can no longer move feces along.

When you take your constipated dog to the vet, they will want to know some key information to help diagnose and treat the issue. This will likely include:

  • When your dog’s last ‘normal’ bowel movement occurred
  • Whether they are displaying other symptoms like bloating or vomiting
  • Any changes to their diet or routine
  • Anything they might have eaten that they shouldn't have
  • The consistency and color of their stool
  • Whether they are on any medication
  • Whether they have been injured or diagnosed with another condition

How Is Constipation In Dogs Diagnosed?

Usually, constipation is easy to diagnose from the obvious symptoms that the dog is unable to pass stool. However, if you’ve taken your dog to the vet for an examination and professional diagnosis, they will likely carry out a range of examinations including:

  • A physical exam to feel for a firm or distended colon
  • A rectal exam to rule out rectal strictures
  • X-rays of the abdomen
  • Abdominal palpations
  • A colonoscopy or ultrasound
  • Urinalysis and blood tests to check for dehydration
  • An enema
  • Blood tests
  • Neurological examinations
  • Biopsies if a rectal mass or stricture is found

Treatments For Constipated Dogs

If you’ve noticed your dog has been constipated for a day or so, you might want to try out home remedies before taking them to the vet.

  • Access to unlimited fresh water should always be on offer, but encourage your constipated dog to drink even more than normal
  • Pumpkin is high in dietary fiber and moisture and is good for both diarrhea and constipation. Only feed your dog unseasoned, canned, boiled or roasted pure pumpkin.
  • Dog food with a high moisture content, like canned food if they are usually on a dry food diet
  • Exercise can help activate the colon
  • A high fiber diet
  • Medically-approved dog stool softeners

If home remedies are ineffective and your dog is still constipated after 48 hours, take them to the vet. Here, they will be prescribed a range of treatments including:

  • Manual removal of the blocked stool
  • An enema
  • Laxatives
  • Other stool-softening medications
  • Dietary management
  • Surgery, in extreme cases

What Happens To Constipated Dogs?

In the majority of cases, constipated dogs will eventually pass their stool following treatment. However, if the constipation was caused by a more serious condition then their prognosis will depend on the cause. 

If constipation is left untreated, it can develop into a more serious condition like megacolon. When the colon is enlarged, it can cause serious medical complications that are very painful and can require lengthy and expensive treatments. So it’s important to treat constipation in dogs as soon as possible.

How To Prevent Constipation In Dogs

A healthy diet that’s high in fiber and moisture is the best way to prevent your dog from developing constipation. However, it is not an uncommon condition and many dogs may suffer from mild constipation throughout their lives.

If your dog regularly suffers from constipation, your vet might recommend a managed therapeutic diet, supplements, and other medications to help ease their digestive issues.