By Jennifer Coates, DVM
Since you are constantly picking up after your dog, you are in the best position to recognize when you dog is becoming constipated. But do you know how to handle the problem should it develop?
First, you need to determine the severity of your dog’s constipation. 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, call your veterinarian. Dogs who are severely constipated can become systemically ill and risk permanent damage to the gastrointestinal tract.
On the other hand, if your dog is only mildly constipated read on to learn more about the condition and what you can do to treat it at home.
Constipation occurs when the stool is too large and/or too firm to be easily passed from the body. Many conditions cause constipation in dogs including:
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 feces that are harder than normal. If these are your dog’s symptoms and he seems to feel fine otherwise, it is reasonable to try some home treatment. But, if your dog does not begin to defecate normally within a day of initiating home treatment, or his constipation becomes a recurring problem, be sure to call your veterinarian.
Take a look at your dog’s rear end. Sometimes the problem will be obvious. Long-haired dogs are at risk for developing mats of fur, oftentimes incorporating feces, 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 veterinarian.
Dehydration can cause constipation in dogs because the body responds to dehydration by reabsorbing as much water as possible from the feces, making it hard and difficult to pass. 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.
Exercise promotes normal movement within the gastrointestinal tract. So if your dog is a little blocked up, consider taking him for a morning (or afternoon) constitutional. Make sure your dog is well hydrated (see previous slide) and then take him on a leash walk. The exercise combined with the smells of other dogs who have “used” the area previously might just do the trick. Hopefully you’ll need that bag you surely remembered to bring along!
Adding fiber to your dog’s diet is a bit tricky since it can help some cases of constipation but worsen others. Therefore, it’s best to start with a small amount and monitor how your dog responds. Two safe options are:
These fiber supplements work by drawing water into the intestinal tract, so make sure your dog is well-hydrated before using them.
Do not give your dog a laxative without first speaking to your veterinarian. Many are not safe for dogs, particularly if used under the wrong circumstances. But if your veterinarian is comfortable doing so, he or she may recommend that you try giving your mildly constipated dog a gentle laxative at home before making an appointment. Petroleum-based lubricant gels like Laxatone are a good first option. If your dog won’t eat the gel on his own (most are flavored to make them taste good), do not force feed him to do so. Also, never give your dog liquid mineral oil to help with constipation. These products can cause severe pneumonia if inhaled.
And finally, never give your dog an enema at home unless your veterinarian has recommended a specific product and has shown you how to safely perform the procedure.