Like humans, dogs can also become constipated. Canine constipation occurs when your pup has difficulty pooping (and the feces she produces are hard and dry) or isn’t pooping at all. While this problem occurs less frequently than canine diarrhea, it’s wise for dog parents to be aware of the dangers posed by this condition.
According to Dr. Karen Becker, chief holistic veterinarian of Mercola Healthy Pets, constipation that’s left untreated can lead to initial discomfort and from there quickly progress into a serious health condition. If solid waste remains in your dog’s colon for too long, the moisture in it will be absorbed, and stools will harden and become difficult to pass.
This can progress to a chronic problem called megacolon, where the colon can stretch to the point where it can no longer function properly. Although this problem is more prevalent in cats than in dogs, you should still take extra precautions to keep your pup’s bowel functions running smoothly.
What Causes Canine Constipation?
Dr. Becker says that there are several causes of dog constipation, but they all fall into one of these three categories:
- Interluminal causes – The colon may have partial or complete obstruction due to ingestion of matter that can’t be digested or tumors.
- Extraluminal causes – Problems may occur outside the colon that can contribute to obstructive constipation. An example of this is a narrowed pelvis due to a pelvic fracture. Another cause is tumors growing in the pelvic cavity, which affect bowel function from the outside.
- Intrinsic causes – These are neuromuscular in nature, and usually occur because of a pelvic or lumbar nerve injury, or diseases like hypothyroidism or hypercalcemia.
One cause of canine constipation is dehydration. Once you notice that your canine is producing dry, hard stools when she goes, you should monitor her water intake. This is especially true for active dogs, as they need more water. In hot weather, your dog’s water requirement also increases.
Another possible culprit is your pet’s diet. Whether you feed your pet raw or cooked food, or canned commercial formula, ensure that she gets enough moisture from her food. Feeding your pet dry kibble results in a situation where she obtains little or no water from the actual food. In this situation, make sure your pup has easy access to clean, fresh water.
Accidentally ingesting a non-food foreign object, which dogs are known to do, or a big chunk of bone, can also cause an obstruction in her bowel and prevent stools from passing. If you suspect this and the situation does not resolve in a day or two, immediately seek help from your vet. Don’t delay as this can develop into a very serious, even fatal, problem.
Other problems that may lead to dog constipation are enlarged prostates (for intact male dogs), hernias in their rectums, and insufficient muscle tone or neuromuscular disorders. These can all impede their body’s ability to move waste through their colon.
How to Tell if Your Pup Is Constipated
If after several minutes of straining and hunching, your pup has produced either nothing or small, hard stools, she may be constipated. Other symptoms include bloating and pain, especially during defecation. Canines with constipation often have stool that’s darker than normal. You may notice mucus or blood or other alarming oddities that you’ve never noticed before.
In normal circumstances, canine constipation goes away in a day or two. If it doesn’t, it is smart to be proactive and concerned. Dr. Becker recommends closing monitoring a constipated pet. She advises all pet owners to track not only what goes into their dog’s body, but also what comes out of it.
Chronic constipation is known as obstipation – a very unfortunate situation in which a dog is unable to empty his bowels without outside assistance. This problem causes the colon to enlarge, as it retains a growing volume of hard stool. Dogs with obstipation will become very uncomfortable, lose their appetite, vomit, and become lethargic.
Once you notice these signs, take action. Seek medical attention if necessary, as there are causes of canine constipation that can be life-threatening. Another cause for alarm is canine constipation that resolves in a day but recurs. It may mean that there are other problems involved.
Treating constipation in dogs will depend on the severity of the case. IV fluids may be used for hydration, including an enema to clear the colon of solid waste. In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary. In dogs with serious cases of obstipation due to an injury to the colon, a neuromuscular disorder, tumors, or pelvic problems that affect the colon, a colectomy may be required. Here, part of the bowel is removed and/or bowel abnormalities are corrected.
Dos and Don’ts for Dogs with Constipation
For dogs experiencing minor bouts of constipation, here are some strategies that Dr. Becker recommends:
- Feed your pet a balanced, species-appropriate diet that her body was designed for. Let them eat raw or cooked meals you prepared yourself will allow your pet’s digestion to operate well.
- Give them digestive enzymes and high-quality probiotics. These supplements will help support digestion, which can determine your dog’s chances of developing constipation or even diarrhea.
- Provide them with enough water and exercise. Regular physical activity with the right amount of pure, clean water can prevent or treat canine constipation.
- Add dietary fiber to their diet. In the wild, dogs often get enough fur from their prey. However, domesticated dogs don’t get a lot of that in their meals. Fiber you can add to your pet’s diet include psyllium husk powder, ground dark green leafy vegetables, coconut fiber, and canned 100 percent pumpkin.
- Try safe natural remedies, like organic apple cider vinegar. Not only does it relieve constipation, but resolves other problems as well. You may also give them aloe juice, not the gel.
- Chiropractic, acupuncture/pressure, and massage may work, too. These modalities have helped numerous pets from chronic constipation.
Dr. Becker also advises against using laxatives and high-fiber grains meant for humans, mineral oil, and home enemas. These can cause additional symptoms or permanent damage for some pets.
For more information on how to resolve canine constipation, read Dr. Becker’s article “Your Pet’s Elimination Habits: What’s Normal and What’s Not.”