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Is My Dog Constipated? Signs To Look Out For

Written By
7 min read

Updated - Aug 12th, 2022

Much like humans, constipation is a common health problem in dogs – and dealing with this condition can be incredibly frustrating. 

Constipation in dogs can be caused by a number of factors. From insufficient dietary fiber to intestinal blockage or dehydration, there are many reasons your pup may be backed up. Treatment for constipation may include dietary or lifestyle changes, or medication including laxatives. In some cases, surgery may be necessary. As with many conditions, maintaining an active lifestyle and a healthy diet can help prevent constipation.

Here, we’ll dive deeper into some common treatments for constipation – and share tips for promoting healthy bowel movements.

Symptoms

The symptoms of constipation are largely what you would expect. If you can imagine what constipation feels like and know what normal bowel movements look like for your dog, it will be fairly easy to recognize when your dog is exhibiting symptoms of constipation. 

The most obvious symptom of constipation in dogs is not having pooped in one to two days. When a constipated pup tries to poop, they may strain, cry out, crouch, or scoot along the ground (a symptom known as tenesma). In general, painful or difficult defecation is known as dyschezia. 

If your constipated pup does manage to pass something, it may take the form of a mucusy discharge or liquid feces mixed with blood. You might also notice redness or swelling around the anus, or urine and blood accumulating in the genital region. 

Other symptoms are common to many diseases, including decreased appetite, vomiting, and weight loss. It’s important to note that many of the above symptoms can also be signs of urinary tract issues, which is why you should consult a vet.

Causes 

  • Excessive or insufficient fiber in your dog’s diet
  • Side effect of medication
  • Lack of exercise
  • Blocked or abcessed anal sacs
  • Dehydration caused by illness
  • Excessive grooming leading to hair collecting in the stool
  • Ingesting foreign bodies, which become lodged in the intestinal tract
  • A sudden change in diet
  • Trauma to the pelvis, or other orthopedic issues that cause pain when squatting
  • Neurological disorders
  • Enlarged prostate (in unneutered dogs)
  • Matted hair around the anus
  • Tumors or growths in the anus or rectum
  • Behavioral conditions
  • Hormonal diseases like hypothyroidism
  • Enlarged colon (colitis)

Constipation is also commonly caused by impairment of the peristaltic waves, which move feces through the colon. They are divided into three categories: interluminal, or inside the colon; extraluminal, or outside the colon; and intrinsic, caused by a disease or nerve injury.

Diagnosis

  • Blood tests or urinalysis to identify dehydration or infection
  • Rectal examination to rule out a rectal mass or stricture
  • Biopsies if a mass or stricture is suspected
  • Manual examination feeling for a firm and distended colon
  • Abdominal ultrasound to identify blockages or swelling
  • Neurological examination to identify other potential causes

Treatment

Treatment for constipation may take many forms, depending on the causes and severity of the condition. It’s important to note that you should never give human medications to your pet, unless directed by your vet. These can cause severe health complications as many human medications are toxic to dogs. 

While your pup’s constipation treatment will depend on their specific scenario, some possiblities include:

  • Laxatives and stool softeners
  • Surgery to remove blockages caused by an ingested foreign object
  • Increasing the amount of fiber in your pup’s diet
  • Canned food (to increase moisture and reduce dehydration), canned pumpkin, goat or cow milk, ginger, wheat bran, or olive oil
  • Powdered fiber supplements
  • Hydration, including electrolyte supplements
  • Prescription medications such as dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate (commonly sold as Ducosate, Cephulac, Kristalose, Generlac, Constulose, or Enulose), cisapride (commonly sold as Prepulsid, Propolsid), or tegaserod, to improve the function of the large intestine
  • Professionally administered enema
  • Manual feces removal, in the case of an impacted colon
  • Neutering, if constipation is caused by an enlarged prostrate

Recovery and care

In some cases, these treatments will have to become lifelong changes. For example, a high-fiber diet – whether based on prescriptions or home remedies – may become a regular part of your dog’s life. Other dietary changes might include the addition of probiotics and the development of a low-residue diet – that is, a diet high in nutrients and low in anything else, which serves to reduce the amount of waste in the intestinal tract and reduce the risk of blockages.

If left untreated, constipation can develop into obstipation, which is more serious and can be a sign of severe health complications. In this case, constipation may become a chronic issue for your dog. This is why it’s so important to seek out treatment the second you suspect your pup is suffering from constipation.

Prevention

The same strategies that are used to treat constipation can help prevent your pup from getting constipated in the first place. Even small lifestyle changes can play a part in prevention. Ensure your dog has a high-fiber diet and gets plenty of water, either from their water bowl or with moist foods. The home remedies listed above, like canned pumpkin, can be a part of this. Make sure your pooch gets plenty of exercise, with frequent walks and playtime, and is well-groomed, to avoid matting around the anus which can be a cause of constipation. To prevent obstipation as well as many other serious conditions, take your dog in for veterinary checkups regularly so you can spot problems before they start.

What to expect at the vet’s office

Before you go to the vet, be prepared to answer a number of questions about what’s affecting your dog. You should be able to recall the last time they had a normal bowel movement. If it’s been one or two days since your pup’s last normal bowel movement, definitely take them to the vet. Observe their stool color and consistency, since hard and dry stool is a sure sign of constipation. Identify changes in diet or behavior, and think about any non-food objects they might have eaten recently. Tell your vet if they’ve sustained any injuries or are receiving any drug treatments.

Your vet will likely take a stool sample and may conduct blood tests or urinalysis. They may also perform a rectal examination and feel for a firm, distended colon. In some cases, they may administer an abdominal ultrasound to identify blockages, or order biopsies if they suspect an intestinal growth is causing the condition. These tests serve to gauge the severity of the constipation and find a potential underlying cause – steps that are key to identifying treatment options.

The bottom line

Constipation is a common ailment that can cause your pup severe pain and discomfort. If you observe symptoms like straining, crying out, or frequent squatting – or you notice your dog hasn’t had a regular bowel movement in a long time – take them to the vet as soon as you can. And always, be sure to promote a healthy diet, lots of water, and daily activity to prevent the risk of constipation in the first place.

FAQs

Does pet insurance cover constipation?

Although it will depend on your plan, your pet insurance may cover treatment to alleviate your dog’s constipation if it’s caused by an illness or injury that developed after coverage began. If it’s the result of an underlying condition, it’s possible that insurance may not cover it.

Can I give my dog laxatives for constipation?

You should not give your dog medications intended for humans unless directed by your vet as these can be toxic. You should only give your dog medications prescribed by your veterinarian. 

Is constipation a sign of more serious medical problems?

In some cases, it can be – especially if constipation becomes obstipation. In other cases, it might be the result of more easily treatable issues. By taking your dog to a vet’s office, you can determine what you’re dealing with and bring your dog relief faster.

Will a high-fiber diet always treat or prevent constipation?

While a high-fiber diet may be helpful in treating or preventing constipation, it’s not always a quick fix. A diet too high in fiber or liquid can actually lead to the opposite problem, diarrhea. Talk to your vet about finding the right balance of fiber in your dog’s diet.

Did you know?

  • Some medications can have constipation as a side effect, including antihistamines.
  • Pumpkin is a well-known remedy for constipation in dogs, and it really works.
  • Just like canned pumpkin, Pumpkin Pet Insurance plans help you pay for the best care possible when unexpected symptoms like constipation arise.

George is a copywriter who has lived alongside cats his entire life.