Constipation is a common health problem in dogs and refers to the inability to pass a normal stool on a regular basis.
This can happen for different reasons and usually can be easily fixed, but some dogs may experience chronic constipation. This can lead to obstipation where the stool becomes drier, harder, and compacted and the dog can’t defecate at all.
Causes of Canine Constipation
In normal digestion, waste is full of water and electrolytes as it is pushed through the intestines to the colon by an automatic muscular motion called peristaltic waves. The water is absorbed in the colon and the waste is moved out as a stool.
If this process becomes slow or impaired, the colon will keep absorbing water and the stool will become harder, drier, and possibly compacted.
Some of the most common causes of constipation in dogs include:
- Lack of exercise
- Poor diet
- Not enough fiber
- Blockages from eating non-food items like garbage, bones, gravel, or plants
- Too much self-grooming that leads to hair collecting in the stool
- Renal issues
- Enlarged prostate
- Anal gland problems
- Spinal injury
- Certain medications
- Trauma to the pelvis
- History of constipation
Symptoms of Dog Constipation
Symptoms of dog constipation include:
- Lack of defecation for a few days
- Hard, pebble-like stool
- Straining without producing much stool
- Painful defecation
- Difficult defecation
- Mucus with stool
- Bloody stool
The purpose of the colon is to store waste and it can store it for several weeks. You may feel alarmed if your dog hasn’t passed a stool in a few days. This may not be a problem, though. You may only need to wait a few more days.
Dogs prone to constipation: Constipation can happen to any dog, but it is more common in older dogs. This is often caused by not enough electrolytes or a kidney problem. An enlarged prostate in older male dogs can also cause constipation. Dogs that groom too often or have poor feeding habits and eat non-food items are more likely to get blockages and constipation. A diet low in fiber, not drinking enough water, or not getting enough exercise can also lead to constipation.
Treatment for Canine Constipation
Most of the time occasional constipation can easily be treated at home with lifestyle adjustments. You may be able to help your dog’s constipation with a home remedy, but make sure to talk to your vet. Constipation can be a sign of other more serious conditions.
Simple dog constipation treatments often include:
- Canned pumpkin
- Bran cereal
- Metamucil, Siblin, or a similar product
- Canned dog food to increase moisture
- Extra water
For chronic or persistent constipation, your vet may recommend some changes or other treatments. These may include:
- Low-residue diet
- Laxative medication
- Manual removal if the colon is impacted
- Enzyme-blocking medications
- Nerve-stimulating medications
Enemas. Enemas can be uncomfortable for your dog. Most dogs do not tolerate this procedure and it should not be forced on your dog. Additionally, enema solutions can be toxic to dogs and cause injury if they’re done wrong. It’s important to leave these procedures to your vet to perform if needed.
Laxatives. You should speak to your vet before giving a laxative solution to your dog. Long-term use and other conditions like dehydration can make laxative solutions unsafe.
Low-residue diet. A low-residue diet is often a better long-term solution for persistent constipation. This kind of diet means your dog may digest more nutrients and have less waste to pass into the colon.
This might be better than a long-term high-fiber diet. Fiber absorbs water from the colon and can aggravate constipation over time. This kind of diet is usually only available through your veterinarian.
To keep your dog’s colon healthy, make sure to get them regular exercise, feed them a healthy, well-balanced diet, and give them access to clean fresh water.
Complications of Untreated Constipation
If your dog’s constipation goes untreated, it can develop into obstipation. This happens when the waste in the colon becomes so dry and hard that it can't be moved. The colon then becomes packed with stool and your dog is unable to pass it. This leads to a condition called megacolon.
The colon becomes uncomfortably large and your dog may become bloated and lethargic, lose their appetite, strain while defecating, and vomit. These can lead to more serious complications and may require medical interventions like surgery, or a manual stool removal called de-obstipation.
It may be difficult to manually remove all the stool, which can lead to multiple procedures and a high cost. Given that the process involves anesthesia, this can lead to a greater risk to your dog's health.