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Straining to Go: Identifying Constipation in Your Dog and Helping Them Get Over It

Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on September 10, 2018
Posted in Parent Help

Any dog owner can tell you their least favorite part about owning a dog: picking up after it. Unlike cats, which usually go to the bathroom in a litter box, dogs are more likely to pee on bushes and trees and to poop all over the yard. Many household guests have fallen victim to the lone dog pile that the owner accidentally missed during their daily pick-up.

Because we know our dogs poop so often, it can be extremely concerning to find no poop around the yard after a few days. This concern is valid—constipation in dogs can be very uncomfortable and even lead to health problems if left untreated.

Unfortunately, constipation is one of the most common ailments dogs endure at some point in their lives. It can happen to dogs of any age, size or breed. The condition is characterized by having difficult or infrequent stools or having no bowel movements at all. Constipation is usually indicative of a problem with the digestive system and should be rectified as soon as possible to allow your dog to be healthy and comfortable again.

Spotting constipation

It’s usually pretty easy to tell if your dog is constipated, because it won’t have a bowel movement for two or more days or will show signs of visible strain when defecating. It may occasionally cry or whimper when attempting to go, as well. If your dog is able to go, it will usually produce dry, hard stools.

Constipation is result of a problem with the body’s process of passing fecal matter through the intestines. Waste gets pushed through the digestive tract by peristalsis, which produces “waves” that contract the colon. This process can be disrupted or slowed, allowing fecal matter to remain in the colon for too long. As water absorption occurs in the colon, the stool becomes too hard and dry to pass.

A number of things might cause a disruption in peristalsis and/or hard stools in dogs, including:

  • Too much or too little fiber in the diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Dehydration
  • Intestinal blockage
  • Abscessed anal glands
  • Matted hair around the anus
  • Side effect of medication

Treating your dog’s constipation

When you notice your dog is straining to go, you can try to implement a home remedy to encourage its digestive system to release. When giving your dog “human food,” make sure to only try one remedy, otherwise your dog may experience diarrhea, which can cause dehydration (and subsequently cause constipation again).

  • Lots of water: Dehydration is the most common cause of dog constipation, causing stools to be dry and hard almost immediately after entering the colon. Giving your dog lots of water can loosen stools and help get things moving again.
  • Canned pumpkin: Pumpkin is known to be high in water and fiber, two things that can help your dog poop. Many dogs love the taste of pumpkin and will gobble it up quickly when it’s provided.
  • Switch from dry food to wet food: If your pooch usually only eats dry food, try feeding it canned wet food for a day or two because it has a higher moisture content. The extra moisture can help loosen stools.
  • Milk: A small bowl of milk may act as a laxative for dogs, allowing them to purge the hard stool from their systems. Avoid giving your pup too much milk, as this can cause diarrhea.
  • Digestive supplements: Feeding your dog treats or supplements that help aid digestion may help the current constipation episode and can also prevent future constipation.

If your dog’s constipation is lasting longer than two days, take it to the vet to have it examined. Your vet will run a few tests to identify the source of the constipation and determine the appropriate course of treatment.

Other treatments may include a veterinary-approved high-fiber diet, additional exercise to help keep your dog regular and changing any medications that may be causing your dog to have constipation as a side effect.

Your vet may also recommend a stool softener, laxative or enema to help your dog relieve its bowel. Usually, the vet will conduct this type of treatment or provide specific instructions to maintain your dog’s health long-term.

If the cause of the constipation is something more serious, such as an intestinal blockage due to a foreign object or a tumor in the pelvic region, the vet will recommend the proper course of treatment and have the underlying problem resolved. Fortunately, not many cases of constipation are due to these more extreme conditions.

Soon after a home remedy has been administered or a trip to the vet, your pooch should be able to poop without problems.

Read also: Harness vs. Collar: Is One Option Better Than the Other for Walking Your Dog?

Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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