Constipation in dogs is defined as the infrequent passage of stool leading to buildup of feces in the lower bowels, or colon. If left unattended, the condition may become irreversible and bowels may completely block with dry fecal matter, a condition called obstipation. Chronic constipation is a serious problem that leads to discomfort during defecation because stools become very dry and hard and can cause damage to the lining of the lower bowel.
A dog may sometimes yelp and drag its rear end along the ground, or turn and lick and bite it. A dog will generally strain to pass even a small amount of stool. Sometimes a mucoid diarrhea with or without blood will be noted, because the dog is able only to pass a small amount of fluid intestinal contents around (and past) the retained hard stool. Usually small sized, hard textured fecal balls are passed.
Causes of Constipation
Before treating constipation in dogs, a cause should be identified. Constipation can be associated with many underlying abnormal conditions. Treating the primary problem that leads to constipation may be curative, and thus is a better approach. To treat just the resulting condition may allow the underlying problem to progress. If constipation occurs, your veterinarian should be consulted to schedule a thorough physical examination. Blood, urine and stool samples may also be obtained for further analysis. Sometimes, imaging tests such as X-rays are also recommended.
Causes of constipation may include hormone conditions, pain in the pelvic area resulting from trauma, arthritis or spinal disk disease, nerve trauma or masses that partially block the tract such as polyps or cancerous masses. Infections of anal glands located next to the anus, bite wounds around the rear end, or foreign material such as bones in the lower gut can also interfere with normal defecation. Certain drugs may slow the gut contractions, and certain foods may favor constipation due to the particular diet formulation. Dogs that are obese, losing their mobility, or are stressed due to travel and changes in routine may also pass their bowels less frequently, leading to constipation.
Dogs, like people, periodically suffer from constipation, which is the infrequent or difficult evacuation of feces from the colon. The condition is often caused by dietary indiscretion or use of certain medications, but sometimes constipation can be caused by some underlying medical disorder. The symptoms of constipation in dogs are much like the symptoms in people, and like people dogs will be relieved by quick and effective treatment of this uncomfortable disorder.
Symptoms of Constipation
One of the most common signs seen by owners of a constipated dog is frequent forceful attempts at defecation, with little or no results. Symptoms of constipation can include one or more of the following:
Nonproductive straining to defecate (tenesmus)
Small, hard, dry fecal material
Discharge of a small amount of liquid or mucus from the anus after repeated attempts to defecate
Redness and swelling around the anal area
Soreness around the anal area
Lack of appetite (inappetance; anorexia)
Abdominal bloating and discomfort
While mild constipation usually resolves itself, severe constipation can be a medical emergency and should be treated immediately.
Dogs At Increased Risk
Middle-aged and older dogs tend to be prone to constipation, as normal bowel activity decreases with age. Dogs that do not drink enough water also tend to become constipated, as dehydration is a common cause of this condition.
Dogs that suffer from constipation often have their diet to blame. However, there are a number of other things that also can cause a dog to become constipated, including ingestion of foreign objects, administration of certain medications, dehydration, cancer and hypothyroidism, among others. A veterinarian is the best one to care for a dog with this condition and to discuss the possible causes of the problem and treatment options with its owner. The goals of treating constipation are to re-hydrate the dog, clear the colon of retained feces, identify and correct the underlying cause of the disorder and relieve the dog's discomfort. Constipation can be dangerous, so it is important for an affected dog to receive treatment as quickly as possible.
If an owner suspects that her dog is constipated, she should consult a veterinarian for treatment. The medical options depend on the cause of the condition. Every dog should have free access to fresh water at all times. Sometimes, constipation can be treated with laxatives to draw water into the intestines and soften the feces. Enemas can also be used to evacuate the bowel. Another potential treatment option is adding milk to the dog's diet. The lactose in milk is difficult for dogs to digest; it pulls fluid into the bowel and stimulates intestinal motility. Typically, milk causes diarrhea in adult dogs. However, giving a constipated dog an amount of milk that would otherwise cause a non-constipated dog to develop diarrhea can be an inexpensive and effective laxative.
Foods with extremely high fiber content, such as unprocessed wheat bran or unsweetened pureed canned pumpkin, can be added to the dog's diet to promote defecation. Soaking dry kibble with warm water before feeding is another easy way to add liquid to the digestive tract. Of course, if something is causing a physical intestinal obstruction, such as a tumor or a foreign object, it probably will be necessary for a veterinarian to remove it surgically. It is extremely important for a veterinarian to be involved with any treatment of a dog with constipation, as certain types of laxatives and enemas can cause more harm than good and may be dangerous for dogs with kidney disorders.
Other less traditional techniques that may benefit constipated dogs, in addition to medical treatment, might include: massage therapy to stimulate blood flow and peristalsis; application of acupuncture and/or acupressure techniques; use of herbal or other non-regulated supplements or homeopathic "remedies"; and other forms of supportive care that may help to ease discomfort, increase circulation, promote intestinal motility and otherwise promote wellness, relaxation and comfort. Some of these adjunct approaches lack controlled studies of their effectiveness and may not have established quality control methods or ways to assess their benefit to dogs with constipation or other gastrointestinal disorders.
Dog owners can also take measures to try and prevent constipation. It is essential that dogs have access to clean water at all times, because hydration is paramount to preventing constipation. Also, as mentioned above, a high-fiber diet can promote regularity in dogs. Regular exercise is also an effective weapon against constipation. Some more specific preventative steps include switching from natural to nylon bones to aid in digestion, eliminating medications that contribute to constipation and, with the help of a veterinarian, learning how to feel a dog's abdomen to recognize when it is constipated.
The prognosis for dogs suffering from constipation is generally quite good.