My dog has constipation; what can I do?

A dog with constipation is an unhappy dog, and constipation can become life-threatening if left untreated. Here’s how to help your pooch:

How bad is it?

Determining the severity of your dog’s constipation is essential for treatment. If your dog is in significant discomfort, is vomiting, won’t eat, hasn’t pooped for more than three days, seems weak, has an obviously distended belly, or has blood in his stool, take him/her to your veterinarian immediately. Dogs who are severely constipated can become systemically ill and risk permanent damage to the gastrointestinal tract.

What causes constipation?

  • Dehydration
  • Treatment with some types of medications
  • Electrolyte abnormalities
  • Intestinal inflammation
  • Pain while defecating (e.g., a broken pelvis or arthritis)
  • Neurologic problems
  • Eating material that can’t be digested
  • Tumors
  • Hernias
  • Hormonal disorders
  • Anatomical abnormalities (matted fur around the anus, birth defects, traumatic injuries, etc.)
  • Lack of exercise
  • Fear or anxiety that prevents normal behavior (e.g., thunderstorms or travelling)

What if his constipation is mild only?

Dogs who are mildly constipated typically strain to defecate, take longer than normal to defecate, may be a little uncomfortable while defecating, and produce small amounts of faeces that are harder than normal. If these are your dog’s symptoms and he seems fine otherwise, you could tr home treatment. HOWEVER, if your dog does not begin to defecate normally within a day or his constipation becomes a recurring problem, you must get to a vet.


How to treat constipation

  • Check his rear end

Sometimes the problem will be obvious. Long-haired dogs are at risk for developing mats of fur, oftentimes incorporating faeces, which can completely cover the anus and make defecation impossible. You can try removing these mats with electric clippers (not scissors!) but if you are unsuccessful, or if you see any other abnormalities (foreign material protruding from the anus, a tumor, etc.), make an appointment with your vet.

  • Increase water intake

Dehydration can cause constipation. Always ensure your dog has constant, easy access to fresh water. This is especially important for dogs who have trouble getting around as they may not feel like making the effort to visit the water bowl. Feeding canned food, and even temporarily mixing in a small amount of extra water, is another simple way to ensure that your dog is getting enough to ‘drink’ throughout the day.

  • Get him to exercise

Exercise promotes normal movement within the gastrointestinal tract. The exercise combined with the smells of other dogs who have ‘used’ the area might just do the trick.

  • Increase fibre intake

Adding fibre to his diet can be a bit tricky since it can help some cases of constipation but worsen others. Start with a small amount and monitor how your dog responds. Two safe options are:

  • Canned pumpkin – small dogs can get a teaspoon mixed in with each meal. Larger dogs can handle up to a tablespoon or so.
  • Psyllium (e.g., unflavored Metamucil) – try giving ½ teaspoon per 4kg of body weight mixed with a meal once daily to start.

Make sure your dog is well-hydrated before using them.

NEVER give your dog a laxative or enema without first speaking to your veterinarian. Many are not safe for dogs, particularly if used under the wrong circumstances.  Also, never give your dog liquid mineral oil to help with constipation. These products can cause severe pneumonia if inhaled.

Symptoms of more serious constipation

Straining, crying while attempting to defecate, passing small fecal balls and passing excessively firm or dry stool. Your dog might show signs of nausea or pain.

You might also notice your dog dragging or scooting their bums along the ground, or licking their rear end. An enlarged prostate, cancer, infections, abscesses, vertebral pain, tumors and hernias can all cause serious constipation. Get your dog to the vet.

If constipation is left untreated,  bacteria and waste products can get taken up into the blood stream, causing sepsis, a serious condition which could lead to a long hospital stay, or even death.