How to prevent constipation in dogs

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How to prevent constipation in dogs - a dog lying on grass with a tennis ball in their mouth

Constipation in dogs is uncommon but can occur in certain circumstances. Constipation can lead to serious health issues. Read on if you've ever asked:

  • What are the symptoms of canine constipation?
  • What are the risk factors for constipation in dogs?
  • How can I improve my dog’s digestive health?
  • What are the treatment options for constipation in dogs?
  • Does constipation warrant a vet visit?

While infrequent bowel movements are sometimes normal, hard, dry fecal matter that’s difficult to pass is not. Constipation in dogs can lead to major health concerns, including megacolon and permanent damage to the colon. More importantly, constipation is usually a symptom of an underlying condition that needs to be addressed before further complications develop. It is important for pet parents to know the signs of constipation and when to speak to a veterinarian about your dog’s tummy troubles.

What is canine constipation?

Canine constipation occurs when a dog has difficulty defecating or strains to pass hard, dry fecal matter. Constipation is accompanied by unproductive straining. Note that straining due to constipation is less common and should not be confused with straining due to diarrhea, other digestive issues, or straining to urinate.

A dog that has not defecated in a few days but has not been straining or showing signs of discomfort is likely not constipated. It is normal for dogs to go a few days without defecating, especially after:

  • Undergoing anesthesia
  • A bout of diarrhea, vomiting, or appetite loss
  • A major injury

Constipation is an uncommon symptom in dogs caused by various conditions.

What are the signs of constipation in dogs?

The most common signs of constipation are straining to defecate and passing only hard feces that are very dry or crumbly. Other symptoms of constipation in dogs include:

As feces build up in the digestive tract, the abdomen may appear swollen and painful. In addition, a dog experiencing constipation may also vomit and lose their appetite. Blood may also be present in the feces due to irritation of the colon or rectum due to strain or abrasion from hard feces.

Is my dog at risk for constipation?

Some dogs are more at risk for constipation based on age, underlying medical conditions, and lifestyle. Risk factors for constipation include:

Dogs who cannot move well due to advanced age, obesity, or arthritis are more likely to experience constipation than others. Medications, such as anticholinergics, narcotics, iron supplements, diuretics, antacids, and others, can also increase the risk. Medical conditions and abnormalities related to the pelvis or lower digestive tract's shape may also impede passage of stool.

Can I prevent constipation in my dog?

Not all constipation can be prevented, but there are steps dog owners can take to minimize the risk. Normal bowel movements can be promoted with:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Regular exercise
  • Restricting access to indigestible matter, such as gravel, dirt, and plants
  • Giving a well-balanced diet
  • Providing plenty of access to water

Regular wellness exams and testing can also help catch medical conditions that may lead to constipation. In addition, when starting a new medication or supplement, discuss potential side effects with a veterinarian and what to do if you observe signs of constipation in your dog.

A dog's diet is another major factor in promoting healthy digestion. Dogs who experience recurring digestive issues may benefit from consulting with a veterinarian who can help tailor a diet plan to help.

How do veterinarians diagnose and treat constipation in dogs?

Constipation is a result of dehydration or alteration in the way healthy bowels produce a movement, both of which are usually a result of an underlying disease or illness. Veterinarians must also address the underlying cause while offering symptomatic treatment for constipation in order to resolve gastrointestinal disruption and prevent further complications.

Treating the cause of canine constipation

If the underlying cause of constipation is not addressed, it is likely to return and become more serious over time. The type of treatment required to relieve the underlying cause of constipation in dogs varies. Examples of possible treatments include (but are not limited to):

  • Medical and orthopedic treatment of arthritis to improve mobility
  • Nutrition plans to support weight management
  • Surgical removal of tumors

Symptomatic treatment for constipation in dogs

Symptomatic treatment is given to help relieve constipation regardless of its underlying cause. Symptomatic treatments for constipation may include:

  • Rehydration through fluid therapy
  • Enemas
  • Stool softeners or laxatives
  • Manually removing impacted stool, which must be performed under anesthesia

Can I use natural remedies if my dog is constipated?

Always consult a veterinarian before trying to address your dog’s constipation or hard stools naturally. “Pets with chronic conditions that predispose them to constipation require ongoing management at home,” explains Vetster veterinarian Dr. Jo Myers. “A veterinarian can help you choose a safe and effective treatment option.”

Natural remedies for constipation include:

Psyllium (Metamucil®) and wheat bran are the best dietary fiber supplement options for dogs. Canned pumpkin can also help but does not contain as much fiber as these options. Always make sure you give your dog plain canned pumpkin puree or fresh pumpkin you have boiled or roasted yourself and not pumpkin pie filling, which contains sugar, additives, and seasonings. Plenty of water is also essential to combat constipation in dogs. You can help increase your dog’s water intake by providing additional water bowls or fountains and switching from dry food to wet food.

Veterinary guidance is very helpful when using at-home remedies, such as enemas and diet changes. Sudden changes to a dog’s food can worsen the symptoms, and enemas can be dangerous if the owner is not trained to perform them properly.

When should I see a vet for my dog’s constipation?

It is sometimes normal for a dog not to defecate for a few days. However, a vet visit is warranted if a dog is straining unproductively or producing only a small, hard, dry stool. What appears as straining to defecate may actually be another symptom like straining to urinate, which is a serious medical emergency, so evaluation by a veterinarian is important if you notice persistent straining in your pup.

Emergency veterinary attention is needed if the straining is accompanied by:

Chronic constipation can lead to more serious conditions, such as complete intestinal blockage and megacolon, which can be life threatening. Obstipation occurs when constipation is resistant to treatment, resulting in the accumulation of a large amount of hard, dry stool in a dog’s colon. This can cause serious issues within the colon and the rest of the gastrointestinal tract. Megacolon occurs when the lower intestines dilate abnormally and lose the ability to move feces along. Both obstipation and megacolon can lead to permanent colon damage and other symptoms such as vomiting, weight loss, and loss of appetite. They may also require frequent management procedures under anesthesia.

If your dog is straining to go to the bathroom, you can connect with an online vet for expert advice. A Vetster veterinarian can assist in a treatment plan to relieve the immediate symptom and address the underlying cause of your dog’s constipation.

FAQ - How to prevent constipation in dogs

How can I relieve my dog’s constipation?

A vet should be consulted whenever a dog is straining to do their business. If constipation is the source of the strain, symptomatic treatments may include fiber supplements, increasing water intake by switching from dry to wet food, and providing plenty of exercise. The underlying cause of the constipation must also be addressed to prevent recurrence.

How long is it OK for my dog to be constipated?

It is normal for some dogs not to defecate for a few days, especially if they have recently been under anesthesia or experienced vomiting or diarrhea. However, a veterinarian must be consulted promptly if a dog is straining to defecate or only producing small, hard, dry stools. Chronic constipation can lead to serious health consequences.

When should I take my dog to the vet for constipation?

A veterinarian must be consulted if a dog is straining to defecate or producing small, hard feces. If constipation persists long-term, it and the underlying cause can result in permanent damage to the colon and cause other symptoms.

Why is my dog constipated?

A dog may become constipated from eating indigestible material that has difficulty passing through the colon or rectum. Limited mobility due to advanced age, arthritis, or obesity can also lead to constipation in dogs. A well-balanced diet, consistent exercise, and plenty of fresh water are essential to promoting normal bowel function.