By Cheryl Lock
Dog owners are bound to deal with a lot of dirty business. From fleas and dirt to vomit and poop, our furry best friends sure can put us through the wringer when it comes to cleanliness.
That last issue—poop—could actually be more of a problem in certain circumstances than you might think. For example, there is actually a medical term for when your dog has mats of fecal matter and fur that block the anus—it’s called pseudocoprostasis. If left untreated, it can cause a whole host of other problems. “Pseudocoprostasis usually happens in longer haired dogs and cats,” says Dr. Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer with the American Kennel Club. “The matted mass of hair and feces can vary in size from walnut size to the size of a large grapefruit. Once the matted hair grows over the anus, it becomes difficult for the dog or cat to defecate.”
To prevent your pet from further harm caused by pseudocoprostasis, learn what to do to handle the situation before it gets out of hand.
Pseudocoprostasis Definition and Symptoms
The clinical definition of pseudocoprostasis is the blockage of the anal opening by dried feces stuck to the fur, and it can occur for a few different reasons. For example, “dogs with matted fur and diarrhea, or at least soft enough stool that it sticks to the fur,” is one way it happens, says Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, staff doctor at NYC’s Animal Medical Center. Besides the long fur issue noted above, dogs that aren’t grooming themselves (or being groomed by their caretakers) well enough or sick dogs that are shedding a lot (like dogs suffering from hypothyroidism) and who are prone to matted fur may be likely to develop pseudocoprostasis as well.
If your dog is straining to defecate, there is a foul smell coming from your pet, or you notice scooting, lethargy, vomiting or an actual mat near your pet’s anus, he could be suffering from pseudocoprostasis, says Klein.
Side Effects of Pseudocoprostasis in Dogs
The most common health issue associated with pseudocoprostasis is when dogs are unable to poop properly because of the blockage. “Not being able to pass stool is a big problem,” says Hohenhaus, “and your dog may start vomiting, stop eating, or even develop diaper rash under the matted fur and feces.”
If left unattended, a case of pseudocoprostasis could develop into maggots that infest the area, further compounding the problem, says Klein, so it’s best to bring your pet to the vet immediately if you suspect he’s having issues.
Treatment for Pseudocoprostasis in Dogs
The solution to your pet’s matted mass is to gently but thoroughly clip the fur and fecal material away from the anus and surrounding areas and then gently bathe the affected skin with a mild dog shampoo and thoroughly rinse the area. Then pat dry. Apply a light coat of triple antibiotic ointment or A&D ointment to help the area heal, but avoid using diaper rash ointments containing zinc oxide, since these products, when ingested, can cause severe anemia in dogs, warns Hohenhaus.
Klein also warns pet owners to never use scissors. “The matted mess will be so tightly bound to the skin and anus that you will likely cause a sizeable laceration. This usually needs to be done by either an expert groomer or at a veterinary clinic,” he adds.
If you do decide to try cleaning your dog at home, use the same strict hygienic guidelines your vet would — including the use of disposable gloves (Hohenhaus suggests the plastic, latex or vinyl exam gloves you can buy at the drug store, because they’re thinner and make it easier to handle the clippers) and throwaway soft paper or fabric towels — and consider at least giving your vet a call for advice first. Afterwards, bring your pet in for an exam to assess the area for any additional problems. “The skin may be found to be significantly inflamed, or possibly ulcerated, requiring medications such as antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications from your veterinarian,” says Klein.
Your vet may also recommend something like an Elizabethan Collar (E-Collar) to prevent your pet from constantly trying to lick the affected area.
Preventing Pseudocoprostasis in Dogs
The best way to prevent further pseudocoprostasis problems is to address the root cause of the soft stool or diarrhea. “A complete fecal exam should be performed, and your veterinarian may request other tests,” says Klein. “She may then prescribe medications or a prescription diet to help normalize the stool.”
Regular, thorough grooming — addressing all parts of your pet including ears and anal sacks— should be a part of a planned healthcare regime, says Klein. In between grooming appointments, baby wipes can be used to clean the anal area, if it’s not too badly soiled. “Or, using gloves, do a ‘spot bath’ of the soiled area, remembering to thoroughly rinse off shampoo and pat dry,” Klein adds. “Owners whose dogs go to regular grooming appointments should request the hair surrounding the anus be trimmed cleanly for better hygiene.”
It’s also important to keep a constant eye on your dog’s defecation to ensure everything is running smoothly. “Check out the behind daily, especially on furry dogs, and observe defecation daily to make sure your dog is going,” says Hohenhaus. “If your dog does have diarrhea, pay extra attention to his rear end, and wipe any adhered stool off with toilet paper or a baby wipe.”