If you notice that your dog is having trouble pooping, they could be constipated. Here are the most common symptoms, and what you can do to help your dog get back to their normal self.
Constipation is normally defined in humans when we pass fewer than four bowel movements per week, but in dogs it is more easily established by evaluating your dog's normal frequency of bowel movement vs a sudden a notable change. Most dogs tend to pass one or two bowel movements each day. If your dog suddenly goes three days without going for a poop, that's a sign they may be constipated.
Constipation is one of the most common digestion problems among dogs, where there is an inability to produce frequent bowel movements. It can affect canines of all breeds and ages. It’s important to become familiar with constipation, so you can get the correct treatment your dog needs before it becomes a painful or dangerous problem.
How to help a constipated dog
As part of the What Poo-blem report from tails.com - which reveals the cities doing the most to tackle dog fouling in the UK - the firm asked their specialist team to share the signs, the causes, and the things you can do to help your pup through the discomfort of canine constipation.
As doting dog owners, we usually pick up on changes in our pooch’s toileting habits. Because let’s face it, when we’re the personal pooper scooper, it’s difficult not to! For many dogs, it happens like clockwork, and it can be worrying when they don’t leave you their usual present.
But if your dog hasn’t pooped in more than 24 hours, that’s a clear sign something’s not quite right. This is why it’s a good idea to be aware of the symptoms and things you can do to help your pup feel their normal selves again.
Causes of constipation in dogs
Constipation in dogs can affect any pooch at any age. However, senior dogs are far more likely to suffer from constipation than young pups.
For our golden oldies, they may be more likely to suffer from bouts of constipation due to weaker abdominal muscles and reduced exercise.
For curious puppies, they’re more prone and at higher risk of swallowing inedible objects, which can cause a blockage in the intestines, leading to puppy constipation. Because we all know how much puppies love to chew and swallow everything in sight!
For pooches young and old, dietary factors like digestibility, eating inappropriate food and fibre levels can sometimes have an impact too.
There are many possible reasons for constipation in dogs, and here are a few more:
Too much or too little fibre
Lack of exercise
Blocked or infected anal glands
Side effect of medication
Lameness in the back legs causing difficulty balancing
Masses or tumours
Dog constipation symptoms
If you notice your dog is struggling to poo and it goes on for more than 24 hours, you should always see your vet for advice. Here are a few common signs of constipation in dogs:
Hard and dry stools
Crying or whimpering while toileting
Tense tummy muscles
Repeatedly crouching to poo
How to help a constipated dog
There are a number of things you can do to ease your dog’s discomfort. Below are both treatments your vet may prescribe, as well as steps you can take at home.
Dog laxatives – Laxatives can help soften your dog’s poo and get things moving again. However, only use specific dog laxatives that have been prescribed by your vet. Never give your dog human laxatives as these can be far too strong and create further complications.
Enema – In more severe cases, your vet may advise your pooch to undergo an enema to help push out the blockage. Never try this yourself at home – this should only be carried out by a veterinary professional.
Keep them hydrated – Ensure your dog has access to plenty of freshwater to keep them hydrated. By encouraging your dog to drink throughout the day can alleviate symptoms. You may also find switching to wet dog food can also help.
Increase exercise – Getting your dog’s whole body moving can give their intestines a jump start too. Introduce another daily walk into their routine, or try some high intensity exercise like dog agility or flyball. Not only is it good for your dog’s physical health, they’re a great mental workout too!
Offer the right diet and schedule – Getting your pup’s feeding routine right is key to their overall wellbeing. Depending on the cause of your dog’s constipation, adding more or less fibre into their diet can help reduce symptoms. You should also be mindful of offering a mix of nutrients so they get the right balance of goodness into their body.
Other causes of constipation in dogs
K9 Magazine decided to take a look at some of the other factors that can cause constipation in dogs, such as age, diet and lifestyle.
As your dog grows older, the muscles of the colon and rectum may lose some of their ability to propel and expel faeces adequately during a bowel movement. Reduction in stomach and intestinal digestive secretions can produce a bulkier, firmer stool as can diets very high in dry food content if there is insufficient water intake. Your dog will squat and strain to force the faecal mass slowly out. She may even cry from the discomfort. Most people have, at one time or another, suffered with short bouts of constipation and it really is horrible. In dogs, a sudden change in toilet frequency can be a precursor to more serious health problems. Our guide will show you what to look out for.
Prostatic disease can mechanically cause constipation as the prostate gland enlarges and presses up against the floor of the rectum. Similarly, tumours in the rectum or on the anus can interfere with the passage of faeces. Any dog may have an isolated difficult bowel movement on occasion. This should be no cause for alarm if he is otherwise in good health and there is no bleeding or excessive pain.
Repeated bouts of constipation can slowly stretch the rectal muscles, causing permanent dilatation and resulting in chronic constipation. Once this occurs, your dog will need frequent enemas as well as faecal softeners to help him eliminate. The increased time the stool remains in the colon and rectum will allow bacteria that normally live there to act on the stool, causing putrefaction and excessive gas production.
Constipation and your dog's diet
People who support the idea of feeding your dog on a raw food diet argue that foods on their natural state contain the optimum balance of enzymes, vitamins and minerals that we need. They suggest, with good evidence to support, that the enzymes contained in raw food and which are killed off by cooking, will help people to digest their food more fully and so derive more nutritional value from it. That places less stress on the body to produce its own digestive enzymes.
Raw feeding supporters also believe that the processing, extraction and cooking of dog food destroys their natural vitamins and minerals and that food takes longer to digest in this cooked, unnatural state. The processed food therefore hangs around longer in the gut while the body attempts to digest it.
The proteins, carbohydrates and fats which have not been fully digested therefore become waste products. These waste products slow down the food’s transit through the gut, causing constipation, bloating, stomach cancer etc, while the fats tend to clog up the arteries. A raw food diet, which is higher in fiber too, pushes the food more quickly through the gut and there are fewer waste by-products which are left around to cause problems to the body.
Feeding your dog a balanced, complete diet in accordance with veterinary guidance is key in helping your dog avoid or overcome constipation but, more importantly, if your dog is suffering with constipation have him checked, quickly. It can be an early warning sign to a more serious illness.
Dog Food Quantity: Your dog's feeding schedule must be adjusted so he produces firm, formed stools at every bowel movement. The number of feedings per day should equal the number of bowel movements. If stools are loose, the feed quantity should be decreased 10%. This assumes that the stools are not loose because of internal parasites or another medical problems.
The amount fed is continually reduced in ten percent steps until a firm stool is produced. If the stools are chalky and very dry, the quantity fed should be increased until a firm stool is achieved. A dog suffering from either constipation or overly loose stools cannot be expected to control its bowel movements on a schedule. Again, recognising that unusual toilet habits can be an early warning sign for more serious problems is worth re-stating. Don't ignore constipation or its opposite, diarrhoea.
Constipation in older dogs
Constipation may be brought on by a loss of muscle tone in the bowel area, or, in older male dogs, by an enlargement of the prostate. Adding bran cereal, liver, or vegetables to the diet of an older dog who is constipated may provide the laxative effect needed to get rid of the problem. Iron can be a cause of constipation so if your dog is receiving supplements, again alert your vet if their bowel movements show any signs of fatigue.
As ever, if you are concerned about your dog's health you should speak with your vet at the earliest opportunity. Constipation can be a symptom of a minor issue that is easily solved or a much more serious one that could be life threatening if not treated early enough. It's always better to err on the side of caution.