It’s one of those topics people don’t like to talk about, but it seems like constipation affects more than just people. While man’s best friend is more likely to get a bout of doggy diarrhea, you may occasionally stumble upon a case of constipation. What causes a dog to become constipated? There are several potential reasons. A good place to start is by understanding the dynamics behind a case of infrequent, hard to pass stools, while learning more about potential causes and the most appropriate treatments.
Constipation is not really a condition, but a symptom that can have many causes. In a constipated dog, fewer bowel movements are passed compared to the dog’s normal elimination habits. Dog owners often notice this irregularity when they take their dogs out and they fail to eliminate or when their dogs appear to strain to defecate and end up only producing bowels that are small, dry and hard to pass. The hard consistency of these stools is attributed to the fact that after staying in the colon for too long, the stools’ moisture content is absorbed leaving them dry.
How to tell if a dog is constipated? Dogs affected by constipation are sometimes seen repeatedly circling, scooting and squatting with unsuccessful attempts. Some may even yelp in pain. When a dog is constipated for too long, his abdomen may appear bloated, vomiting episodes may arise and the dog may lose his appetite and appear lethargic. Hopefully, preventive measures are taken before a dog reaches this point.
There are many different causes for constipation in dogs and some may be minor while others can be serious. Prolonged constipation lasting over two to three days or constipation accompanied by other clinical symptoms should always be brought to a vet’s attention for proper diagnosis and treatment. Constipation that resolves and then recurs, should also be investigated so to find the underlying trigger.
- At times, the cause of constipation can be simply due to lack of fiber in the diet. In the wild, canines used to get their daily doses of fiber by ingesting fur and the content of their prey’s stomach which often contained digested fiber.
- Another cause of constipation is inadequate water consumption.
- Mechanical blockages can be a trigger for constipation. When a foreign item is ingested, it may block the intestinal tract and the dog may be unable to produce stools. Sometimes, the presence of a hernia or tumor may be partially or completely blocking stools from passing. Intact, male dogs are prone to an enlarged prostate and this may press against the bowels causing thin stools, trouble defecating or even an obstruction.
- Injury and abnormalities affecting the nerves and muscles of the colon, as well as injuries that cause pain when the dog positions himself to defecate may also lead to constipation.
- Stress, fear or other serious behavior problems may cause a dog to change his elimination habits and develop constipation.
- Certain medical conditions such as hypothyroidism may cause the irregular passage of stools.
- Decreased activity levels as seen in senior dogs or dogs recovering from a medical condition requiring rest may be a contributing factor.
- Anal sac problems may cause difficulty eliminating and constipation.
- Certain medications such as antihistamines, diuretics and narcotic pain relievers may cause constipation as a side effect.
*Note: sometimes what looks like constipation in reality is a case of diarrhea. If your dog has had diarrhea and now is straining, most likely it’s caused by the sensation of incomplete bowel emptying which is often triggered by the runs.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Upon presenting to the vet, the dog’s abdomen may be palpated for signs of pain. It’s not unusual for the vet to often find a firm, distended colon. The rectal area may be examined to rule out the presence of tumors or other problems. If the vet suspects an obstruction, x-rays will be performed. Blood tests may help determine the presence of dehydration or presence of other physical ailments and infections. An abdominal ultrasound may be needed in some cases.
Treatment will vary depending on the underlying cause. If diet seems a factor, dietary changes such as the addition of fiber may bring relief. Dogs that are dehydrated may need increased water intake, but if the dehydration is severe, they may need IV fluids. Short-lived cases of constipation should resolve when caused by stressful events. When medications known to cause constipation are stopped or replaced with other types of drugs always under the vet’s guidance, the dog may be soon back to eliminating normally.
Constipation due to a foreign body obstruction or the presence of tumors, hernias or enlarged prostates requires appropriate treatment to resolve. This may often mean surgery to remove any tumors and unusual growths and neutering in the case of dogs with enlarged prostates.
In cases of mild to severe constipation, the dog will be anesthetized so the vet can manually remove the dry, impacted stools from the colon. Vet-prescribed medications may be needed to soften the stool and provide give relief.
Warning: As tempting as it may be to reach out for stool softeners crafted for humans, it’s often unsafe to do so. For instance, many over the counter medications designed for humans to soften stools or relieve constipation aren’t suitable for dogs and can cause adverse side effects. Also, enemas crafted for human use can be highly toxic to pets!
The Bottom Line
While most cases of constipation may be mild, in some cases it may triggered by serious problems. Knowing your dog’s normal elimination habits and stool consistency can help you identify early signs of trouble. While sending the dog out to potty on his own in the yard or the use of doggy doors may seem convenient, it ultimately prevents you from noticing elimination problems in a timely manner.
- ASPCA: Constipation
- Healthy Pets: Your Pet’s Elimination Habits: What’s Normal and What’s Not
- Pet MD: Constipation in Dogs
- VCA Animal Hospital: Constipation in Dogs