Symptoms of constipation can be uncomfortable for our dogs - and concerning for pup parents. Our Aadobe Animal Hospital emergency vets share signs of constipation in dogs, causes, and tips for treating the condition.
What is constipation in dogs?
Constipation is one of the most common health issues seen in pets' digestive systems.
The inability to pass feces or pain associated with passing feces is considered a veterinary medical emergency and requires immediate care.
If he also strains when attempting to defecate and/or is producing hard, dry stools, these are also hallmark signs.
Some dogs may also pass mucus when trying to defecate, circle excessively, scoot along the ground, or squat frequently. If you press on their stomach or lower back, they may have a tense, painful abdomen that causes them to growl or cry.
What causes constipation in dogs?
There may be many factors contributing to your dog’s constipation:
- Lack of exercise
- Excessive or insufficient fiber in his diet
- Other illnesses leading to dehydration
- Blocked or abscessed anal sacs
- Excessive self-grooming (may cause a large amount of hair to collect in the stool)
- Neurological disorder
- A side effect of medication
- An orthopedic issue causing pain when a dog positions himself to defecate
- Enlarged prostate gland
- Sudden change in diet or sampling new foods
- Matted hair surrounding the anus (caused by obesity or lack of grooming)
- Ingested pieces of toys, gravel, plants, dirt, and bones caught in the intestinal tract
- Obstruction caused by tumors or masses on the anus, or within the rectum
- Trauma to pelvis
Elderly pets may experience constipation more often. However, any dog that faces one or more of the scenarios above can suffer from constipation.
Signs of Constipation in Dogs
Constipation symptoms include straining, crying, or crouching when trying to defecate. Also, if he hasn't had a bowel movement in more than two days, you should take him to the vet right away.
Keep in mind that these symptoms may be similar to those that could point to a urinary tract issue, so it’s important that your vet perform a full physical exam to diagnose the cause.
Treating Constipation in Dogs
Google “How to treat constipation in dogs” or "How to relieve constipation in dogs" and you’ll find wide-ranging advice, from sources both trustworthy and dubious.
The best thing to do is check in with your veterinarian and bring your dog in for an exam. Blood tests may help reveal infection or dehydration. The vet will likely take a medical history, conduct a rectal examination to rule out other causes or abnormalities, and may recommend one or a combination of these treatments:
- A prescription diet high in fiber
- A stool softener or another laxative
- More exercise
- Enema (administered by a professional, not at home, as there could be a risk of injury or toxicity if done incorrectly)
- Adding more fiber to your dog’s diet (wheat bran, canned pumpkin, or products such as Metamucil)
- A small bowl of goat or cow milk
- Medication to increase the large intestine’s contractile strength
Follow your vet’s instructions closely, as trying too many of these or the wrong combination may bring on the opposite problem - diarrhea. You don’t want to trade one digestive problem for another.
Fortunately, we have an in-house lab where diagnostic tests are performed, and an in-house lab and pharmacy that’s stocked with a range of medications and prescription diets, providing us quick access to any medications your pet may need while in our care.
What can happen if my dog’s constipation is not treated?
If your dog's constipation is not treated, he may become unable to empty his colon on his own (a condition called obstipation). The colon is then overburdened with an uncomfortably large amount of feces, resulting in lethargy, unproductive straining, loss of appetite, and possibly vomiting.