Constipation in dogs can have many causes. It's important to pinpoint the cause so that the correct remedy can be given. Diet is very important in keeping the bowels regular.
Most commercial dog foods based on grain and fillers are not easily digested by dogs and result in constipation.
Dogs do not have the enzymes to digest these foods, making them difficult.
Different Signs of Dog Constipation
The signs of constipation are pretty obvious, including:
- Lack of defecation for a few days;
- Hard, dry stools that feel like pebbles when you pick them up.
Two other signs of discomfort are associated with constipation, including:
- Tenesmus, which includes straining to defecate with little or no result, or producing small amounts of liquid fecal matter mixed with blood;
- Dyschezia, which is painful or difficult defecation.
Causes Of Constipation
Under normal circumstances, fecal matter travels through the digestive tract, reaching the colon where water and electrolytes are absorbed from the mass. Water reabsorption in the colon’s main function.
Fecal material in the colon is moved through a process known as “peristaltic waves.”
If this process becomes impaired or slowed, the fecal mass will stall in the colon and continue to lose moisture, becoming hard, dry, and, ultimately, impossible to pass.
Scientists have long used a term usually associated with geology—“concretion”—to describe stool that is as hard as a rock.
Common Causes Of Dog Constipation
Veterinary textbooks list scores of underlying causes, some as benign as lack of exercise, others much more serious problems, like cancer.
Veterinarians categorize these causes, based upon where the problem occurs along the digestive tract. They use the words:
- Intraluminal (referring to blockages inside the colon)
- Extraluminal (obstructions originating outside the colon, such as tumors or pelvic fractures)
- Intrinsic (diseases and nerve injuries)
Some of the most common reasons dogs become constipated include:
- Diet—As in humans, a diet lacking in fiber is often the problem. Also, unlike humans, dogs tend to eat things that are not food—like hair, toys, and kitty litter—and these may cause blockages and abnormal fecal transit. Bones, bone meals, and other sources of dietary calcium can contribute to constipation.
- Age—Elderly dogs seem more prone to constipation.
- Activity level—For reasons unknown, being sedentary often results in slower transit.
- Digestive tract tumors
- Tumors that narrow the pelvic region
- Anal gland issues
- Prostate enlargement
- Dehydration or electrolyte imbalances
- Drugs, including opiates, diuretics, antihistamines, some antacids, certain cancer drugs
- Metabolic diseases, like hypothyroidism and renal (kidney) issues
- Spinal diseases and injuries
- Central nervous system disorders
- Stress and psychological problems—Something in the environment that will lead a dog to hold it.
- Orthopedic disorders make it difficult for the dog to squat.
- Surgery—Medical procedures, and the drugs administered during these procedures, may result in constipation. Call your vet for advice if you observe this in the post-surgical period.
7 Things to Give a Dog With Constipation
Poor diet is a common cause of constipation in dogs. Adding more dietary fiber can help bulk up stools and make them easier to pass.
A tried-and-true food remedy is canned pumpkin, which contains lots of dietary fiber as well as moisture to help with dried-out stools.
Other sources of fiber that you can add to your dog’s diet include psyllium husk powder (unsweetened, unflavored Metamucil) or ground dark leafy vegetables, such as spinach.
Sedentary habits can contribute to constipation in your dog.
Getting your dog moving will also help keep his bowels working properly, as exercise can increase intestinal muscle activity and help move stools through.
Dogs’ exercise needs vary by breed, age, and size, but a good aim is one full hour of exercise per day.
3. More Fluids
Make sure your dog has constant access to fresh, clean water.
A dog can become dehydrated, especially in hot weather or after unusually long periods of activity, and this can lead to constipation.
If you suspect your dog isn’t drinking enough water, consider switching to wet canned food or adding water or broth to his dry food for extra moisture.
4. Aloe Vera Juice
Aloe vera juice, produced from the leaves of the aloe vera plant, has mild laxative properties in humans and animals.
A small dose of the juice mixed into your dog’s food or water may help move his stool and its soothing, anti-inflammatory properties can help heal and calm any digestive discomfort that he may be experiencing along with constipation.
5. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is another natural remedy for all kinds of digestive trouble.
Although the research is minimal on ACV for dogs, it is safe to use, as its only ingredient is fermented apple juice.
Folk wisdom credits ACV with combating infection, promoting healthy gut bacteria, and improving overall health. A small amount added to your dog’s water dish could help with constipation.
6. Frequent Opportunities to Go
Sometimes constipation isn’t truly a physical problem but a behavioral one.
If your dog doesn’t get enough opportunities to eliminate when he’s relaxed and in a comfortable environment, he may retain his stool too long, causing it to be hard and painful when he does try to defecate.
Aim for six trips a day to a quiet area that your dog is familiar with, and give him plenty of time to do his business.
7. Stool Softener
If natural remedies don’t produce relief, you can try a stool softener called docusate sodium (Colace).
This medication increases water absorption into the intestine, so your dog’s stool will be softer and easier to pass. Be sure to check with your vet before using a stool softener, and follow the vet’s recommended dosage.
Remember, if these remedies don’t produce normal bowel movements within a day or two, it’s time to consult your vet for more drastic measures, such as an enema or stronger medication.
If constipation goes on for too long, your dog’s colon could become packed with hard fecal matter, causing further pain and even internal damage. Take his constipation seriously!
Treatment for Dog 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
Your vet may recommend some changes or other treatments for chronic or persistent constipation. 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 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 its appetite, strain while defecating, and vomiting. 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.