As a pet owner, you come to instinctively know your dog’s bathroom routine. So if it’s been a day or two without the regularly scheduled squat, the most likely cause may be constipation.
Constipation in dogs causes them to be unable to pass normal stool at a typical frequency, which for most dogs is 1 to 3 times per day. Sometimes stool is passed with great difficulty and has a hard, pellet-like consistency. Often constipated dogs will experience pain or strain while attempting to defecate.
A common health problem, canine constipation can be quickly and easily relieved using home remedies. However, prolonged or severe constipation can lead to complications that may require veterinary intervention.
Table of contents:
- Causes of constipation in dogs
- Signs of constipation in dogs
- Importance of treating dogs for constipation
- How to treat constipation in dogs
- Home remedies
- When to call the vet
- Veterinary treatments
Causes of constipation in dogs
In a healthy canine system, fecal matter passes through the dog’s digestive tract to the colon or large intestine. The main function of the colon is the absorption of water and electrolytes from the waste matter as it passes through the intestine in wave-like contractions called “peristalsis.” If for any reason this function is impaired or slowed, the feces will remain longer in the colon, where moisture and salt absorption will continue, causing the stool to become dry and compacted.
Improper function of the gut that leads to constipation can be triggered by a wide range of factors, from easy-to-treat diet and lifestyle issues to more sinister disorders.
- Diet — The most common cause of constipation in dogs is the consumption of indigestible items which lodge in the gastric system and prevent the natural progress of stool. Excessive licking and grooming can lead to blockages in the gut, as well as the consumption of items like trash or bones. As with humans, a lack of fiber in the diet can lead to constipation.
- Stress — Dogs are routine-based animals and sudden or traumatic life changes or behavioral conditions can lead to abnormal bowel movements. These can include separation from family, stress from boarding or traveling, or changes to a regular exercise routine as a result of surgery or mobility issues.
- Medications — Drugs such as antihistamines, opiates, diuretics, and certain cancer medications.
- Obstructions — Intestinal obstructions and pain can result in your dog’s inability pass stool as normal, including inflammation of anal glands, lymph nodes, or prostate and internal tumors of the digestive tract
- Physical pain — Orthopedic issues and injuries, such as pelvic fractures, spinal disc displacement or disease, and even arthritis can make it hard for your dog to squat.
- Metabolic diseases — Systemic disorders, like renal issues and hyperthyroidism, can lead to constipation in dogs.
Signs of constipation in dogs
Constipation is fairly easy to identify, especially if you’re well attuned to your dog’s regular bowel movement schedule. If your dog has not passed regular stool in 24 hours, keep a close watch, especially after feeding. Your dog may attempt to pass stool without success — look out for repeated circling, squatting, and dragging their behind along the ground. You may hear vocalizations during these attempts, or when you press their stomach. Clinical symptoms include dehydration, lethargy, decreased appetite, or watery scat that may contain blood — a sign of excessive straining and may require professional medical intervention.
If you pass the 48-hour mark without normal poop, or only small, hard pellets that feel like stones, your dog is most likely constipated for one of the reasons listed above.
Importance of treating dogs for constipation
Naturally, constipation is an unpleasant and uncomfortable experience for your dog. In most common cases caused by diet and lifestyle, constipation in dogs can be easily remedied. However, there are certain circumstances where the condition can continue, leading to chronic cases whereby hardened and dry fecal matter is retained in the colon until it becomes compacted and the dog is unable to pass stool. This is called obstipation and it is typically associated with serious medical conditions.
How to treat constipation in dogs
In the first day or two of a mild case of constipation, you can try a few tactics to get things moving. However, if you notice any of the clinical symptoms listed above, including signs of pain, distress, a distended and swollen anus, or an inability to urinate, call your veterinarian immediately, as these can indicate a more serious underlying condition.
For mild cases involving a slight delay in pooping schedule, you can try to alleviate the issue with a few DIY efforts:
- Exercise — Take your dog for a walk or to play outdoors. Exercise can stimulate the colon and potentially get the fecal matter moving manually.
- Hydration — Introduce water into your dog’s system to rehydrate by adding water to kibble, canned wet food, or even running the hose if it engages them to drink more water.
- Pumpkin — That’s right, pumpkin. A 1-4 tablespoon serving (depending on your dog’s size) of 100% canned pumpkin can provide the necessary dietary fiber and moisture to help with mild constipation. Most dogs enjoy the taste and will eagerly ingest it. Weird fact: It can also help with some cases of diarrhea.
- Supplements and foods — Fiber supplements and human foods like ginger, bran, and olive oil may help with the constipation in dogs, however it is generally recommended to consult with a veterinarian before feeding your dog any of these remedies.
When to call the vet
Though often a benign issue, constipation in dogs can indicate a deeper, more serious underlying health issue and should be closely observed. Call your vet as soon as you become aware of the problem and seek advice. If you can’t remember your dog’s last bowel movement but are observing the clinical symptoms of pain, distress, decreased appetite, lethargy, swollen anus, vomiting, and vocalization or aggression when pressure is applied to the abdomen, call the veterinarian clinic immediately.
When you arrive, provide as much information as you can to help assist with diagnosis, including:
- The time and date of the last bowel movement
- Stool color or consistency
- Any drugs or recent surgeries
- Recent ingestion of foreign items or traumatic experiences, if known
The veterinarian will most likely begin by collecting a medical history, before performing a physical examination of the dog’s abdomen for confirmation of a firm distended colon, potentially followed by a rectal exam to check for signs of swelling, strictures, tumors or abscesses. Abdominal radiographs may be taken to determine the extent of constipation and obstructions beyond the rectal exam, as well as blood and urine samples for signs of dehydration or infection. In more severe cases an ultrasound may be ordered; or a biopsy if a rectal mass is suspected.
- Holistic treatments, such as simply increasing hydration and dietary fiber
- Manual intervention to remove the impacted feces
- Medications to stimulate normal colon function
- Surgery — In extreme cases, particularly where Megacolon, a chronic condition whereby weakened muscles fail to propel matter through the intestine due to neurological or developmental impairment; or as a secondary condition to extended constipation.