dog constipation

What to Do If Your Dog is Constipated

A properly functioning gastrointestinal (GI) system is important in maintaining proper health and nutrition in dogs. Aside from being the main organ for digestion and absorption of nutrients from food, the GI tract is also responsible for eliminating solid wastes from the body. As food is ingested, it travels down the entire GI tract and undergoes digestion and eventual absorption to be utilized by the dog’s body for various biological functions. Any disruption or change in the way ingested food travels down the GI tract can lead to digestion and elimination problems like constipation. Keep reading to learn about common causes of constipation in dogs and what you can do to help your furry friend.

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How does food travel through the intestinal tract?

When a dog eats, the ingested food travels down different segments of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract from the stomach down to the large intestine. Food ingesta is propelled down the intestinal tract through the process of peristalsis, the rhythmic contraction of muscle layers of the intestinal wall.

Peristalsis plays a vital role in the transit of food along the intestinal tract. When there’s nothing to digest and absorb, the rate of intestinal peristalsis is very slow. Ingestion of food signals the brain to stimulate peristalsis to facilitate the movement of the food down the intestinal tract.

What is constipation?

Constipation happens when peristalsis, or the movement of ingested food along the intestinal tract, is delayed and causes difficulty in passing stool normally. There are several causes of constipation in dogs and the treatment approach differs depending on what the underlying cause is. Obstipation is a type of constipation that does not get resolved with treatment, causing a total inability to pass stool.

Common Causes of Constipation in Dogs

1. The most common cause of constipation in dogs is obstruction due to improper digestion. When a dog eats food ingredients that it cannot properly digest and break down, it causes partial or complete obstruction of the GI tract, leading to constipation.

2. Dehydration or poor water intake is also one of the most common causes of constipation in dogs. The large intestine, the last segment of the intestinal tract, is responsible for the absorption of vitamins and reabsorption of water from the ingested food. When a dog gets dehydrated or is not drinking enough water to sustain proper hydration, the large intestine tends to reabsorb water from the fecal matter more than usual. This causes the fecal matter to become dry and hard which can be difficult for a dog to pass.

3. Constriction along the intestinal tract is also another cause of constipation in dogs. This is commonly seen in dogs with a narrowed pelvic bone, either due to a previous fracture that healed incorrectly or improper bone formation. This is also observed in male dogs with an enlarged prostate.

4. Lastly, giving excessive fiber in the diet can lead to constipation in dogs. Fiber helps control the transit of ingested food by reducing the water in the feces and prolonging the transit of ingested food along the intestinal tract. This is helpful in dogs suffering from diarrhea but causes constipation in healthy dogs.

What are the signs of constipation in dogs?

Common signs of constipation in dogs are straining during defecation and passing hard, dry feces. You may notice your dog taking a long time trying to have a bowel movement and remain in the squatting posture longer than usual. Sometimes, if the hardened feces only partially blocks the passage of normal stool, or if the lumen of the intestinal tract is constricted, the affected dog may pass thin, ribbon-like, or soft feces.

Chronic constipation can lead to prolapse of the rectum, usually observed when a dog strains too much during defecation. When complete obstruction occurs, the dog may have excessive vomiting, lethargy, weakness, and loss of appetite. Often, a dog suffering from chronic obstructive constipation will vomit out foul-smelling fluid as digested food particles travel back up the GI tract.

What can you do if your dog is constipated?

In all cases of constipation, it’s best to contact a vet for proper assessment and appropriate treatment. If you start to see early signs of possible constipation, bring your dog to the vet immediately. Waiting for further signs can make the condition worse and may require more invasive or aggressive treatment.

Mild constipation in dogs can be treated and managed medically at home. Changing to a highly digestible diet will help speed up the transit of food along the GI tract. Increasing water intake can also soften the feces.

There are medications that can address delayed motility in dogs. Laxatives like Lactulose may be recommended by your vet to help draw out water from the large intestine into the lumen to soften the feces for easier transit. It also mildly irritates the lining of the large intestine to cause more rapid peristalsis. Prescription medications like Bisacodyl speed up the motility of the intestinal tract which helps in passing feces and managing constipation in dogs.

Severe cases of constipation and obstipation in dogs require a more aggressive approach. Dogs that have really hard feces built up in the latter segments of the intestine often require intravenous fluid therapy for proper hydration and hospitalization at the veterinary clinic.

Dogs with obstipation and subsequent intestinal obstruction may need manual removal of the hard feces from inside the intestine. This is usually done through warm saline enemas administered to the dog rectally to help lubricate the dry feces and soften them up.

In severe cases of obstipation, surgical intervention may be necessary. Obstipation cases that have not responded to laxatives, intravenous hydration, and enema treatment are usually a candidate for surgery. Surgical removal via an enterotomy procedure is sometimes the only way to effectively remove hard feces in the intestine. This option, however, is more invasive and would require close monitoring postoperatively.

Though mild constipation can easily be treated with non-invasive treatment and medication, it’s still best to bring your dog to a vet if you’re suspecting that it may be suffering from constipation.

Read more:

Safe Treatments for Your Dog’s Constipation

How to Choose the Right Food for Your Dog

Choosing the Right Prescription Diet for Your Dog

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