Constipation in dogs

Estimated Reading Time 4 minutes
Constipation in dogs

Dogs normally pass faeces several times a day. If your dog is constipated, then the frequency with which they pass faeces will decrease or stop altogether. Constipation has many causes and, particularly in older pets, is something to monitor carefully. If your dog has been constipated for two days or more, it’s time to seek advice.

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Clinical signs of constipation

  • Infrequent or lack of stools

  • Unproductive straining or posturing to pass stools

  • Quiet, loss of appetite and lethargy

  • Passing small, dry and possibly hard stools

  • Blood on the stool

  • Swelling around the anus

  • Tense abdomen

  • Inappetent or off food

  • Vomiting- impaction of poo in the lower gut can cause sickness

Causes of constipation

Just like humans, there are many reasons that dogs can become constipated. Some of the most common are:

  • Dehydration

  • Not drinking enough water

  • Lack of fibre in the diet

  • Lack of exercise or a sedentary lifestyle

  • Not having sufficient time on a walk to toilet or adverse weather

  • Trauma or pain associated with passing faeces e.g. anal gland impaction

  • An intestinal obstruction or intestinal disease

  • Neurological or musculoskeletal disease

  • Pain associated with posturing, for example, arthritis of the hind limbs

  • Dietary indiscretion e.g. eating bones, stones, pieces of carpet and the other myriad objects that dogs sometimes eat.

  • Enlarged prostate in male dogs

  • Medications that slow down gut transit time

How to prevent constipation in your dog?

  • Spot the problem early: monitor the frequency and consistency of stools.

  • Ensure your dog has regular exercise: this will help the muscles of the intestine and rectum to work properly

  • Feed a complete dog food: this will meet all of your dog’s nutritional requirements

  • Low residue diets: these diets reduce faecal bulk in the colon

What to give a constipated dog?

You must be very careful in treating your dog for constipation without the advice of a vet, as other illnesses may present in the same way. It is common for owners to mix up straining for diarrhoea with straining due to constipation, which have totally different treatments. It is always best to have a consultation with a vet to confirm the diagnosis before treatment.

Some of the things you can do at home:

  • Increase dietary fibre: add bran, methylcellulose or psyllium to your pet’s diet. There are over the counter veterinary products such as protexin pro-fibre that may be beneficial.

  • Laxatives: your vet may prescribe laxatives for your pet, which are typically administered with food. Laxatives are stool softeners which will help your dog pass faeces, particularly when they have become dry and hard. Never give your dog human laxatives.

  • Access to fresh water to keep hydrated and providing the opportunity pass faeces such as taking your dog out for a walk 2-3 times daily.

Treatment of constipation in dogs

If your dog has constipation, then an examination by your vet will help to identify the possible causes and provide the correct treatment. Blood tests and a urinalysis will be done to identify any underlying diseases. In most mild cases, supportive medications such as pain relief or laxatives may be all that is needed.

In some more severe cases imaging such as X-rays, an ultrasound scan or a colonoscopy may be performed to identify more specific causes and the extent of build up of faeces.

If the build up of faeces is severe, hospitalisation for intravenous fluid therapy, an enema and/or manual removal of faeces under general anaesthetic may be necessary to clear the constipation.

If the constipation has been caused by a prescription medication, your vet will advise on whether to discontinue or change the treatment. There are unusual cases where surgical intervention is required, for example, if a foreign body becomes lodged in the intestines or there is a damaged part of the bowl. Your vet will be able to provide further information on a case by case basis.

When to see your vet

  • If your dog has been constipated for more than 48 hours

  • If your dog often strains to pass stools that are hard and dry

  • Diarrhoea, which can quickly lead to dehydration

Further reading

Constipation in cats
Diarrhoea in dogs
Diarrhoea in cats

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