Constipation in dogs: what to do

Constipation in dogs is usually a sign of a more serious disease or ailment so if your dog is struggling to poop,  it’s important to see your vet as soon as possible.

Picking up poop is a job almost all dog owners know, and almost all dog owners hate. But not having any poop to pick up can be a sign of serious illness in your pet.

Constipation in dogs: what causes it?

Constipation is when a dog cannot pass stool. The stool usually accumulates in the large intestine, becomes extremely hard and impacted, and cannot be passed naturally. This can be a serious condition, that can lead to severe damage of the intestine, and even death.

Constipation, however, should actually be seen a symptom, and not a disease itself. There is usually an underlying reason that caused the constipation to occur. Some of the most common reasons are:

  • Severe arthritis
  • Back problems
  • Kidney disease
  • Obesity
  • Growths in or around the anus
  • Foreign ingested objects like bones.
  • Megacolon

So, when a dog suffers from constipation, one should always ask, “why did the constipation occur in the first place?”. Merely relieving the constipation may not give lasting results as it has a high chance of recurring if the underlying problem is not addressed.

Constipation in dogs: diagnosis

To be honest, the only sure way to know is by doing a rectal exam, which should ideally be done by a veterinarian, and an abdominal X-ray. You might observe your dog spending much time trying to push or straining with no faeces coming out, or only a very small hard faecal ball passing. Some dogs may start vomiting, whimper in pain, become very lethargic and stop eating. If any of these signs are noted, it is recommended to visit a vet.

How is constipation treated?

It is quite easy to mistake diarrhoea for constipation. Many dogs with diarrhoea will also squat and try to pass stool, with nothing coming out. So before trying home treatment, it is recommended to visit a vet first. Ensuring that constipation is the issue is particularly important, as the laxatives that are often used to treat constipation will make diarrhoea so much worse and even life-threatening.

The degree of constipation is important in determining which treatment options are best. Some patients require intensive treatment. This involves intravenous fluids and overhydration to soften the stool, additional stool softeners and enemas that are done under sedation or general anaesthetic. The colon is a very thin and sensitive part of the intestine, and prone to trauma during enemas. So, it is imperative that this is done by a veterinarian, and not at home. Patients that do not require such intensive treatments may only require stool softeners and laxatives.

But equally important is to treat the underlying disease. Dogs with arthritis or back problems may require pain management. Patients with kidney failure should be encouraged to drink more water, and growths or foreign objects need to be removed. Treating the underlying cause will decrease the chance of the constipation happening again.

Can constipation be prevented?

The simple answer is yes. Firstly, by treating the underlying cause. Addressing pain, losing weight, not feeding bones or any other foreign object can go a long way to reducing the chance of constipation. But in some patients, this may not be enough. These patients my benefit from eating a diet high in fibre, though not just any fibre. This fibre is specifically designed to trap water within the stool, keeping it soft, and allowing it to pass more easily. At times, small amounts of laxative may also be needed to maintain adequate faecal passage. It is important though, that the treatment plan is designed in partnership with a vet to ensure safety and that it actually works.