Constipation in dogs may not be as common as diarrhea, but it still happens quite often in growing canines. As a result, it's important to talk about it and be aware of the symptoms, but dog constipation is too often ignored by pet owners. If left untreated, the condition could run its course on its own, but it could also cause serious injury to your pup.
While it is true that constipation in dogs can be a temporary condition that doesn’t have any serious underlying causes and can pass on its own relatively quickly, dog constipation can also be caused by some really major health issues. In turn, this condition could lead to even bigger life-threatening conditions.
12 ways to prevent and treat it
Causes of Dog Constipation
There are a lot of different possible causes for dog constipation. Before we go over the main ones, however, we can also simply summarize them into three distinct categories:
Interluminal causes – This group involves the partial or complete blockage of the colon, usually by indigestible matter.
Extraluminal causes – This is a much more life-threatening group. These causes come from outside the colon and could include a narrowed pelvis due to a pelvis fracture or a growing tumor that presses the colon from the outside.
Intrinsic causes – This is the term used for a group of neuromuscular causes. These can be anything from nerve injury to various diseases, which will discuss more in a minute.
To give you some more specific examples, however, let's talk about the most common causes and what they may mean. The most common cause for dog constipation is swallowing indigestible objects or things that are relatively hard to digest. A prime example of that are pieces of dry bones.
This is why most veterinarians will advise you against giving your dog bones, and tell you to swap them with a nylon chew toy instead. Other such examples can be pieces of cloth, toys, rocks, etc. This is why it’s always important to pay attention to what your dog eats and chews on.
Similar to above, ingested hair from self-grooming can also cause constipation. And while you should obviously let your dog take care of his own hygiene, if he’s a long-haired breed, it’s always important to brush him regularly yourself. You’d be a great help, the dog will appreciate it and you’ll prevent this cause of constipation.
While we are talking about eating and digesting improper thing, there is a myriad of human foods that can cause dog constipation, including a lot of meat-based appetizers. This is just one of the many reasons why you should never let your dog eat human food, but instead stick to dog food and dog treats.
Dehydration is another of the more common causes of constipation. While it may seem like an easy problem to fix, dehydration can also cause a lot of other health problems. That's why you need to address it as quickly as possible.
Other common causes of dog constipation include:
- blocked or abscessed anal sacks
- enlarged prostate
- kidney disease.
- tumors or other masses in the pelvis and around the anus
- increased stress
- side effect of a medication, supplements or surgery
- insufficient fiber in the dog’s diet
- insufficient exercise
Symptoms of Dog Constipation
Now that we’ve got some of you a bit scared, let’s take a look at some of the key symptoms of dog constipation. While constipation can easily pass on its own, just as it often does in humans, if a day or two has passed and the symptoms of constipation persist, you should urgently look for a veterinarian’s help.
The first, and most obvious sign of dog constipation is a complete lack of defecation. Especially if you’ve trained your dog well (which you should!) and he always defecates on specific, regular intervals, the sudden lack of defecation should be easy to spot. While not defecating once can be a minor thing that passes on its own, continues not to defecate (even just for a second consecutive day) you’d be right to worry.
General difficulties when defecating are another easy-to-spot sign. Even if the dog manages to defecate in the end, if he’s doing it slower than usual, if he’s straining and crouching or if he’s whimpering while trying to defecate, that is also usually a surefire way to determine constipation.
Other signs of dog constipation include:
- small, hard, dry feces
- a small amount of mucus discharge while trying to defecate without any actual release of feces
- redness, swelling or pain around the anus
- scooting (the action of rubbing the anus on the ground or carpeting)
- abdominal bloating
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Treatments of Dog Constipation
There are a lot of things that can and should be done when your dog has constipation. Almost all of them start with “go to the vet.” And, while most people read educational articles such as this one online exactly in the hopes of avoiding a visit to the vet, the fact remains that dog constipation is an internal issue that can have a lot of life-threatening causes and consequences.
So, whatever you want to do and think about doing, always get your dog to a good veterinarian you know and trust. Now, with that out of the way, let’s go over the main ways to treat and prevent dog constipation. Some of those will be directly prescribed to you by your vet, others you can and should do yourself.
There are several things that should always be done before taking your dog to the vet or while on the way there. These are not dietary actions, as those will come later.
If you have seen a thread or a string hanging from your dog’s anus DO NOT pull it. You don’t know what’s on the other end of that string and there’s a significant risk of causing serious internal damage if you pull it. However, if you see grass in the anus of your dog, it should be safe to pull it out gently. It’s highly unlikely that there’s anything significant at the other end of the grass.
If there are feces matted around the anus of the dog, carefully trim them with scissors. If your dog is long-haired, it’s strongly advised to soak their behind in warm water first. Dogs can be very frantic when their anus hair is being trimmed, especially if you're pulling on the hair due to stuck on feces.
Regardless of whether you’ll be trimming your dog’s anal hair or not, it’s usually a good idea to wash the anal region with warm, soapy water. You should also apply some soothing jelly on the inflamed area afterward.
Take the dog’s temperature. If you weren’t sure whether to take your dog to the vet or if this was just the first instance of him failing to defecate, an abnormally high temperature should tell you that an immediate visit to the vet is a must. If the thermometer is bloodied, even more so.
For more information on how to take a dog's temperature with a thermometer, you can watch the informative video guide below.
What are some of the things that you can expect your veterinarian to do when you bring them a constipated dog? This section is not here so that you can try and tell vets how to do their job, but simply so that you can know what to expect.
First, comes the diagnosis. Dog constipation may be the condition for which you are bringing your dog to the vet, but there are several tests that can be done to determine the underlying cause of that constipation. Some of them include radiographs, abdominal ultrasound, as well as blood work.
Any subsequent actions of your vet will be based on these tests’ results.
Next, come the treatments. Depending on the health problem your dog is experiencing, there are a lot of things your vet can decide to do. The dog can be hospitalized and given enemas to remove or pass the obstructions in his colon.
The dog can also be hospitalized for further prolonged examinations if the vet deems it necessary. The vet can also administer fluids under the skin in order to make sure that your pet is properly hydrated. Intravenously administered fluids are also something you can expect.
In the case of male dogs where the prostate is causing constipation, an immediate castration is usually done. If some of these treatments sound a bit frightening (like immediate castration), keep in mind that they are never administered without reason – your vet knows what he or she is doing.
12 Home Remedies and Treatments for Dog Constipation
So, once the visit to the vet has come and passed, what are the things that you can do at home to treat dog constipation? Your veterinarian may even recommend some of these treatments.
There are a lot of known remedies that can prevent constipation, as well as such that can treat it. Most of those shouldn’t be administered without a vet consultation, but you should also be aware of them so that you know what to ask for.
To start with natural ingredients that you can simply add to your dog’s diet, a pureed fresh pumpkin or even some canned pumpkin can be a great addition to your dog’s food. Pumpkin is very high in water content and is one of the best sources of fiber.
If you’re wondering how exactly to add pumpkin to your dog’s food, there are a lot of great recipes online. We've featured some pumpkin recipes here on Top Dog Tips. Some of them include:
- Pumpkin Peanut Butter Homemade Dog Treats
- Healthy Pumpkin Cookie Dog Treat Recipe
- Pumpkin Dog Treats for Sensitive Stomachs
- Dog Treats with Sweet Potato and Pumpkin
- Dog Treat Recipe with Pumpkin Seeds and Cranberries
2. Bran (wheat or oat)
Similarly to pumpkin, bran is very rich in fiber. It isn’t rich on water, so make sure that your dog is well hydrated. Also, even though it’s just food, make sure to consult your vet about how much of it you should add to your dog’s food.
3. Organic apple cider vinegar or aloe juice
Both are great ways to improve digestion and treat or prevent constipation. Consult with your vet on the appropriate dosage, but generally, aim for one fourth of a tablespoon per 10 pounds of body weight. Add the vinegar or juice to your dog’s food once or twice per day.
4. Chiropractic, acupuncture and massages
Each of these three techniques can help with chronic dog constipation, but never try to administer them yourself. Trust your vet to tell you whether or not they are appropriate and to apply them.
5. Food supplements, digestive enzymes and probiotics
There are a lot of different food supplements out there that are great for constipation. A lot of them typically contain things such as acidophilus, folic acid, and vegetable enzymes. And of course, make sure to consult with your veterinarian first.
MORE INFORMATION: Top 5 Best Digestive Enzymes for Dogs
Speaking of food supplements, you can also try Aloe Ferox. It has a strongly beneficial effect as a natural remedy and cleanser. Use only after a vet’s approval.
7. Mineral oil
A simple way to help lubricate the stool, mineral oils are often a key component in curing constipation.
8. Milk of Magnesia
Another thing that you shouldn’t give your dog without your vet’s approval, Milk of Magnesia can also cure constipation pretty much by itself.
9. Powdered psyllium seeds
A great way to pull water into the stool and ease its transition through the colon, psyllium seeds may be what you dog needs.
Good old laxatives can of course also do the trick, if your vet advises it.
We mentioned it above, but it’s worth mentioning here as well since some dog owners take it on themselves to do it. Always consult with your vet first and make sure that you know what you are doing. Otherwise, of course, enema is a great way to treat constipation.
12. Increased exercise
We are putting this last on the list, not because it’s the last thing you should consider, but because we want you to remember it. Insufficient exercise is one of the most ignored reasons for dog constipation, as well as for a ton of other health problems in dogs.
So, similarly, it’s one of the best ways to treat and prevent constipation in the future. Not to mention that it’s also one of the best ways to make your dog infinitely happier. In other words, get your dog to the park!