Sick Dog

It’s hard not to be sympathetic when your dog is constipated. If you spend a lot of time walking or cleaning up after your dog, it won’t take you long to notice that there is a problem.

What Are the Signs of Constipation in Dogs?

Naturally, the most straightforward sign of constipation is producing little if any feces during bowel movements. Other symptoms include:

  • Straining or remaining in a crouched position for longer than normal while defecating
  • Mucus or blood in the stools
  • Bloating and discomfort
  • “Scooting” the hind end along the ground
  • Yelping while attempting to defecate

Paradoxically, the little bit of feces that a constipated dog does produce may be runny, which leads owners to misidentify their dog’s problem as diarrhea.

If your dog has been constipated for more than two days, it’s time to check in with your veterinarian. Signs of distress, such as vomiting or lethargy, should be taken seriously and warrant an immediate vet visit. While constipation is sometimes just a brief annoyance, it can also be indicative of something more serious. Your veterinarian will be able to tell if your dog needs professional care or can be treated at home.

What Causes Dog Constipation?

Overweight dogs are at high risk for constipation.

Lifestyle factors can play a role in constipation. For example, dogs who do not frequently exercise and/or are overweight are at higher than average risk. A dog who does not drink enough water will often struggle to defecate, in addition to having other health problems. Diets with too much or too little fiber may also lead to constipation.

Other causes of constipation include:

  • Intestinal blockages or obstructions
  • Infected anal glands
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Tumors
  • Pain experienced while defecating (caused by orthopedic problems, for example)
  • Hernias
  • Hormonal disorders
  • Neurological disorders
  • Eating foreign objects that are poorly digested
  • Stress

What Can I Give My Dog for Constipation?

If your dog’s constipation appears mild, has not lasted more than 48 hours, and is not associated with any additional symptoms, you can try treating the condition at home. Should that attempt fail, however, don’t keep trying other treatment options. It’s dangerous for a dog to go too long without a bowel movement.

Home remedies for constipation include:

  • Exercise – You can start by simply examining your dog’s level of activity. Keeping your dog moving will keep the digestive system “moving” as well. Even elderly dogs should get up and exercise, just at their own pace.
  • Diet – A diet that is contains optimal levels of soluble and insoluble fiber will promote healthy digestion. Certain dry foods are specifically designed with those digestive needs in mind. For dogs who struggle to remain hydrated, you might consider a wet food. You can also mix in a little water or broth to your dog’s regular food. Make sure your dog’s water dish is easy to access at all times, and consider providing multiple dishes around the house.
  • Supplements – Some types of dietary supplements can also help relieve constipation. Many owners have had success with canned pumpkin. For smaller dogs, mix approximately one teaspoon in with their food. Larger dogs can be served one tablespoon. There are also pumpkin supplements designed specifically for dogs. You can try adding psyllium powder to your dog’s diet. It’s especially crucial to be make that your dog is well-hydrated when you supplement with fiber.
  • Probiotics and prebiotics – products, like Fortiflora, that supplement or encourage the growth of beneficial gut bacteria can be helpful. Omega 3 fatty acid supplements are also worth a try in dogs who suffer from recurrent constipation.
  • Laxatives – While there are laxatives and stool softeners available for dogs, these should always be given under veterinary guidance. Never give your dog an enema unless it has been prescribed by your veterinarian.

    Adding canned pumpkin or a pumpkin supplement to your dog’s diet may help with constipation.

When to Consult Your Vet

Constipation is a relatively common condition and can sometimes be treated at home. If your attempts to regulate your dog’s digestion do not succeed after 24 hours, it’s time to talk to your vet. Untreated constipation is, at best, uncomfortable and, at worst, truly dangerous. If your dog shows other symptoms, such as vomiting, seek veterinary help immediately.

The vet visit will include a complete history and physical exam and maybe blood work, a fecal examination, urinalysis, X-rays, or other diagnostic tests. Your vet might send you home with medications and a treatment plan that you can perform yourself or, if necessary, keep your dog in the hospital for fluid therapy, enemas, and/or manual removal of impacted feces. With prompt and appropriate treatment, your dog should be back in the “flow” of things before you know it.

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Dr. Jennifer Coates