Dog Constipation: Stuck in a Ruff Situation

Dog Constipation: Stuck in a Ruff Situation

"What defines dog constipation?" and "Why is my dog constipated?" are questions frequently asked by pet owners. On the opposite end of the gastrointestinal (GI) spectrum lies diarrhea, which can also be perplexing since it can have many underlying causes. Both of these GI issues in dogs can cause lethargy, bloating and extreme discomfort making it difficult for them to have a bowel movement.

Although providing your dog with nutritionally balanced food and avoiding dietary indiscretions (like trash picking, ingesting toys, the wrong canned dog food, and nibbling table scraps) can minimize GI upset, constipation and diarrhea are common conditions pet parents should be aware of and know when it’s time to see the the vet. Your vet can help identify the cause of your dog’s constipation and the best way to manage it.

Occasional constipation for dogs can be a common issue, and it's important for pet owners to be aware of the causes, symptoms, and potential remedies. Here's a detailed overview:

dog poop

What is Dog Constipation?

​​A dog's constipation refers to their infrequent or difficult passage of stool. When constipated, a dog's stool passed is often hard and dry and might contain blood. A dog that poops occasionally one or two times less than usual is generally not cause for alarm, but if your dog has not passed stool in more than a day and is showing signs of straining or a poor appetite, call your veterinarian. When a dog's digestive system is showing prolonged constipation and other signs of chronic constipation, it may be time for a physical exam.

Causes of Dog Constipation:

  • Dietary Issues: Insufficient fiber intake or a sudden change in diet can lead to constipation. It's one of the most common causes. Low-quality food or poorly balanced commercial dog foods may also contribute. A dog's diet is often a leading contributor to many ailments or a common health problem.

  • Dehydration: Inadequate water intake can lead to dry, hard stools that are difficult for a dog to pass.

  • Lack of Exercise: Physical activity and daily exercise helps stimulate the digestive system. A sedentary lifestyle can slow down a bowel movement.

  • Foreign Object Ingestion: Dogs are known for eating things they shouldn't, which can lead to blockages and constipation from foreign objects.

  • Medical Conditions: Conditions like anal gland problems, hernias, and pelvic injuries can contribute to constipation. Neurological issues and certain medications may also be factors.

  • Age and Breed: Older dogs are more prone to constipation due to slower metabolism, while certain breeds may have predispositions.

  • Stress and Anxiety: Emotional stress can affect a dog's digestive system.

Constipation can also occur alongside any disease that causes digestive problems and/or impedes normal passage of feces through the gastrointestinal tract. This can include birth defects, perineal hernias, rectal prolapse, and more. Surgery and anesthesia can also cause constipation in dogs, and certain drugs can impact the digestive tract, including:

  • antihistamines

  • opioids

  • sucralfate

  • antacids

  • diuretics

  • iron supplements

  • Kaopectolin

  • anticholinergics, such as atropine

In some cases, the cause of a dog's constipation is unknown.

Symptoms of Dog Constipation:

  • Infrequent Bowel Movements: A dog that normally has a regular bowel movement but suddenly experiences a decrease in frequency may be constipated.

  • Straining: If your dog is straining, but producing little or no stool, this is a sign your dog is constipated.

  • Hard, Dry Stools: Stools that are dry and difficult to pass are indicative of constipation.

  • Discomfort or Pain: Your dog may show signs of discomfort, like whining or arching their back, while trying to defecate.

  • Loss of Appetite: Dogs feeling constipation symptoms may lose interest in food.

If you suspect your dog is constipated, it is always a good idea to call your veterinarian for advice. Remember that there are many causes of constipation—some more serious than others—and it is better to determine and resolve any underlying health problems, if possible, to prevent recurrent constipation and other problems.

dog poop

Treating Constipation in Dogs: Home Remedies

1. Dietary Adjustments:

  • Increase Fiber: Adding fiber to a dog's food and diet can promote regular bowel movements. Options include adding canned pumpkin, cooked vegetables, or specialized high-fiber dog food to your pup's diet. Canned food and other dry food may be lacking these ingredients, having an effect on your dog's digestive health. Remember to never give your dog too much fiber.

  • Hydration: Ensure your dog has access to clean, fresh water at all times.

2. Exercise:

  • Regular exercise can help stimulate bowel movements and treat constipation for many dogs. Going for walks and engaging in active playtime or more exercise are beneficial for dog constipation.

3. Laxatives and Stool Softeners:

  • Only administer these under the guidance of a veterinarian. A stool softener should never be given without professional advice.

4. Probiotics:

  • Probiotic supplements can promote healthy gut flora, aiding in digestion.

5. Manual Assistance:

  • In severe cases, a veterinarian may need to use manual removal of the fecal matter from the rectum.

6. Consult a Veterinarian:

  • If constipation persists for more than a day or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, it's crucial to seek professional advice. Underlying medical conditions may require specific treatment.

7. Prevention:

  • Maintain a balanced diet with adequate fiber content.

  • Ensure your dog stays well-hydrated.

  • Encourage regular exercise.

When To Take a Constipated Dog to the Vet

dog indigestion

Chronic constipation or severe constipation (called obstipation) can permanently damage the large intestine, and other symptoms can be signs of serious illness. Take your dog to the vet or a local emergency clinic the same day if they are showing these symptoms:

  • Vomiting

  • Lethargy

  • Refusing to drink water

  • Refusing to eat for longer than 1 day

These signs are less serious, but still warrant an appointment with your vet:

  • They have been constipated for 48 hours or longer

  • They are otherwise acting sick in any way

Your veterinarian will take an oral history from you, conduct a full physical examination of your dog including a rectal examination, and recommend testing if appropriate. Bring a fresh stool sample with you for testing if possible. It is also helpful to take a video of your dog straining to poop so your vet can see what you see.

Remember, while these remedies can often help alleviate constipation in dogs, it's always best to consult with a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment, especially if the issue persists or worsens. They can provide tailored advice based on your dog's specific needs and health history. Dogs have sensitive digestive systems, and gastrointestinal problems can be a sign of an underlying health issue. While most pet parents worry about diarrhea, you also need to keep a vigilant eye on their pooping patterns, too.