Most pet owners have detailed knowledge of their pet's bathroom habits (an unfortunate side effect of all the litter box cleaning and poop scooping we're required to do), so it's fairly obvious when our furry friends fall off their "regular" routine.
Many dogs will become constipated at some point in their lives. Although constipation is not extremely common in dogs, it is usually a minor health problem that can be dealt with fairly easily.
Here's what you should know about the problem and how to treat it.
Signs of Constipation in Dogs
If your dog is constipated, you may notice him straining to have a bowel movement. If he is able to defecate, the stool will likely be hard and dry. The stool may also be small and pebble-like. When a dog is constipated, his appetite may decrease and he may even begin vomiting.
If you notice a decrease in the regularity of your dog's bowel movements, it could be a sign that he is getting backed up. Watch closely for further signs of constipation.
It is very important that you contact your veterinarian as soon as possible if you notice one or more of the following signs in your dog:
- Two or more days without a bowel movement
- Difficulty urinating, straining to urinate, or inability to urinate
- Pain or distress, such as crying out when trying to defecate, standing with a hunched posture, etc.
- Blood in the stool (or passing blood without stool)
- Any worsening signs of illness, such as vomiting, lethargy, lack of appetite, etc.
- Other signs that cause you to become concerned
What Causes Constipation in Dogs?
There are many different things that can cause a dog to become constipated. The following are some of the potential reasons for constipation in dogs:
- Dehydration (more common)
- Dietary indiscretion (eating something inappropriate)
- Foreign body obstruction (grass, hair, rocks, cloth, pieces of toy, etc.)
- Obstruction due to abnormal tissue growth (tumor, polyp, congenital malformation)
- Gastrointestinal motility disorder
- Enlarged prostate (male dogs)
- Medication side effects
- Matted hair covering anus
- Orthopedic or neurological problem
- Immobility or extremely sedentary lifestyle
There may be other reasons for your dog's constipation. In some cases, constipation resolves without anyone figuring out the cause.
How to Treat Constipation in Dogs
When it comes to dog health, remember that your veterinarian is always the best source of information. However, if you notice mild constipation in your dog, you can try a few things at home first to give him some relief.
Important note before proceeding: If your dog is straining to defecate, make sure he has not been having diarrhea. Urgency to continue defecating is common after dogs have diarrhea. Home methods for constipation will only make things worse if your dog is actually having diarrhea.
The following simple changes may help your dog start defecating normally again:
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Adding moisture to your dog's body is usually the key to resolving constipation. Try adding water or low-sodium chicken broth to your dog's food. Or, if your dog usually eats dry food only, you can try feeding good-quality canned food. Try getting the canned version of his current diet if it's available, but any quality canned food should be okay as long as your dog does not have food allergies or sensitivity. Or, instead of canned food, you can try adding green beans, sweet potatoes, or a tablespoon of canned pumpkin (not pie filling) to your dog's kibble with the water or broth.
Movement gets things moving. Sometimes all it takes to get your dog's bowels to move is for your dog to be active. If your dog is healthy enough to exercise, take your dog for a nice long walk or provide another type of moderate to vigorous exercise. Regular activity is a great way to prevent constipation in senior dogs or dogs with a tendency to get backed up.
In addition to the above actions, you may wish to try a natural remedy or over-the-counter medication before going to the vet. Remember, if you think your dog might have had diarrhea before straining, do not try these home treatments!
Note that it's best to choose only one method. Using multiple remedies at once can make things worse. Call your vet's office to get the correct dosage for your dog before trying over-the-counter medications. Consider trying one of the following things at home:
- Olive oil or coconut oil: A tablespoon added to the food may help lubricate things
- Fish oil: liquid or capsules
- Slippery elm (herbal supplement)
- Fiber supplement (Metamucil, etc.): Add to food with plenty of water; use an unflavored variety with no added sweetener
- Stool softener/laxative (DSS/Colace or Miralax)
- Bran flakes (100% bran cereal): can be added to food with water
Do not attempt to give your dog an enema at home unless instructed to do so by your veterinarian.
Take your dog to the vet if constipation gets worse or if it does not improve within 24 hours.
If your dog passes stool, the first bowel movement may contain hard, dry stool. After that, it is not uncommon for dogs to end up with soft stools for a day or two. If your dog develops watery diarrhea or any other issues, take him to the vet.
How Vets Handle Dog Constipation
If your dog's constipation does not improve with the above tips within about a day, then it's time to go to your family veterinarian. After getting a thorough history, your vet will perform a physical examination, including abdominal palpation to feel for stool in the colon.
Your vet may recommend radiographs (x-rays) to see if your dog is constipated and determine the severity of it. Excess stool can be easily seen on radiographs. Radiographs may reveal an obstruction if there is one, but these do not always show up.
Depending on your dog's age and the exam findings, your vet may also recommend lab work to assess your dog's organ function, electrolyte balance, blood cell counts, and more.
If your dog is truly constipated, your vet may recommend an enema to remove the backed-up stool. Subcutaneous fluids may also be recommended in order to hydrate your dog. In addition, your vet may prescribe a medication like lactulose to help your dog with bowel movements.
Most dogs do not need to be admitted to the hospital for constipation. Usually, the treatments can be done in a couple of hours and your dog can return home for the night. However, if your dog is very dehydrated or has other medical problems, he may need intravenous fluids and/or additional treatments that require hospitalization.
If your dog has persistent or recurrent bouts of constipation, your veterinarian will work to determine the cause and best course of treatment. In some cases, you may be referred to a veterinary specialist for a second opinion, advanced diagnostics, or specialized treatments.