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Healthy Dogs

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Constipation in Dogs: Causes and Treatment

ASPCA logo Constipation -- difficult, infrequent or absent bowel movements -- is one of the most common health problems associated with a pet’s digestive system. Telltale signs include dry, hard stools and straining when trying to defecate. Some dogs may also pass mucus when attempting to defecate.

What Causes Constipation?

There are various reasons why a dog may be constipated:

  • Too much or too little fiber in his diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Blocked or abscessed anal sacs
  • Enlarged prostate gland
  • Excessive self-grooming can cause large amounts of hair to collect in the stool
  • Matted hair around the anus from lack of grooming or from obesity
  • Ingested gravel, stones, bones, dirt, plants or pieces of toys, etc. caught in the intestinal tract
  • Masses or tumors on the anus or within the rectum, causing an obstruction
  • Side effect of medication
  • Trauma to the pelvis
  • Orthopedic problem that causes pain when a dog positions himself to defecate
  • Neurologic disorder
  • Dehydration due to other illness

How Can I Tell if My Dog Is Constipated?

If your dog has not had a bowel movement in over two days or if he strains, crouches or cries out when attempting to defecate, you should see your veterinarian right away.

Note: These signs may be similar to those seen with a urinary tract problem, so it’s important that you see your vet to determine the cause.

Which Dogs Are Susceptible to Constipation?

Elderly pets may suffer more often from infrequent or difficult bowel movements. However, the condition can occur in any dog that has one or more of the causes of constipation listed above.

How Can I Treat My Dog’s Constipation?

Depending on what’s causing your dog’s constipation, your vet may recommend one or several of the following treatments:

  • A stool softener or other laxative agent
  • Medication to increase the contractile strength of the large intestine
  • Adding fiber to your dog’s diet with canned pumpkin, wheat bran or a product such as Metamucil
  • A veterinarian-prescribed, high-fiber diet
  • An increase in exercise
  • An enema (administered by a professional, not at home, as there could be risks for toxicity or injury if done inappropriately)


What Can Happen If Constipation Goes Untreated?

If your dog’s constipation is not alleviated, obstipation-the inability to empty his colon on his own-can occur. In this state, the colon is packed with an uncomfortably large amount of feces, causing unproductive straining, lethargy, appetite loss and possibly even vomiting.

WebMD Veterinary Reference from ASPCA Virtual Pet Behaviorist

The ASPCA Virtual Pet Behaviorist specializes in the resolution and management of pet behavior problems only. Please do not submit questions about medical problems here. Only licensed veterinarians can diagnose medical conditions. If you think that your pet is sick, injured or experiencing any kind of physical distress, please contact his veterinarian immediately. A delay in seeking proper veterinary care may worsen your pet's condition and put his life at risk. If you are concerned about the cost of veterinary care, please read our resources on finding financial help.

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