Constipation is one of clinical manifestations that are typically observed when your dog has a problem with its digestive system. It is defined as the dog’s inability to pass stools on a more normal, more regular basis. This definition can be quite vague since the normal bowel elimination of pets can vary from one pet to another depending on the presence of certain factors such as the underlying disease or health condition that is causing the change in bowel habits, changes in activity levels, and even stress among others. In this essential guide for constipation in dogs, we will take a closer look at what happens during constipation, what typically causes it among dogs, and how it can be treated and prevented.
What Happens in Constipation?
Experts define constipation rather loosely since no two dogs will exhibit the same exact pattern of bowel elimination. Generally, there is a reduction in the frequency of bowel movement as well as a change in the consistency of the stools. If diarrhea produces more frequent, loose often soft or watery stools, constipation is the diametrical opposite. As such, the stools are frequently hard and fully-formed. One can even think that they appear dehydrated or look more like solid cylindrical blocks that are passed through your dog’s rectum and anus.
Because it is very hard and solid, it takes time for it to travel down the gut and the colon. This is interpreted as a less than frequent passage of stools.
So why do stools turn so hard that they have a difficult time passing through the colon?
It should be understood that constipation is not a disease. It is a symptom of a disease. What happens is that the normal passage of stools in the dog’s colon is somehow affected by certain factors such as diet, medications, and even disease processes.
Undigested foods as well as the byproducts of digestion are passed onto the colon from the gut in the form of stools. Normally, water present in the stool is drawn or reabsorbed into the blood vessels lining the colon or large intestines. In constipation, there is unusually greater amount of water being drawn from the stool, turning it into one solid mass.
The passage of stools in the colon is facilitated by the rhythmic contractions of the smooth muscles inside the colon. This is known as peristaltic movement, dividing the long mass of stool into sections or segments like a series of sausages still tied to one another. As stool move along the colon, the amount of water present gives it some degree of lubrication. Unfortunately, because the stool has become very dry, it becomes more difficult to move through the colon.
In some instances, the smooth muscles of the colon are also not contracting as efficiently as they should. This means the stool will have to move on its own and rely on the bulk of food directly behind it to give it a push towards the rectum. While it is waiting for such ‘push’ to occur, the stool is constantly being siphoned of water, further aggravating the difficulty of stool passage.
These are just some of the most common ways by which constipation occurs, of course. The next section will explain in greater detail the most common causes of constipation in dogs.
What Can Cause My Dog to Become Constipated?
As we have explained above, there are many reasons why dogs can become constipated or will have difficulty passing stools. Veterinarians typically classify them into three groups:
These are the causes of constipation that occur inside the colon itself. It is often characterized by an obstruction in the colon, whether partial or complete. It can be because of the presence of an undigested food material or even the presence of a tumor.
These causes represent those forces that act on the exterior of the colon. It can be because of a narrowed pelvis that typically occurs when the pelvic bone is fractured or that there are growing tumors within the pelvic cavity itself. This can compress the colon and produce constipation.
These are causes that are mostly attributed to a neuromuscular abnormality. For example, it can be a result of spinal cord injury at the level of the pelvic or lumbar regions. It can also be brought about by hypothyroidism as well as excessive calcium in the blood.
Let us try to look at some more specific reasons as to why your dog can become constipated:
- The presence of hernias
- Enlargement of the prostate gland
- Swallowing grass, stones, pieces of toys, bones, dirt, and other non-edible items
- Co-existing kidney disease
- Unusually slow intestinal processes
- Extremes in dietary fiber, can be too much or too little
- Problems in the anal sac such as abscess or blockage
- Excessive grooming which can lead to the ingestion of hairballs
- Matted hair especially around the anal area secondary to obesity or even lack of grooming
- Lack of or insufficient amount of exercise
- Tumors growing within the rectum or masses growing on the anus
- Problems in the spinal cord at the level of the lumbar region
- Dehydration either because of insufficient water intake or because of an illness
- Traumatic injuries to the dog’s pelvic area
- Side effect of certain medications such as antispasmodics, opioid painkillers, anticholinergics, sympathomimetics, antihistamines, antacids, antidiarrheal agents, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, anticonvulsants, and calcium and iron supplements
- Orthopedic problems and associated disorders that can cause pain especially when the dog assumes the position of defecating
- Canine stress
How Do I Know If My Dog is Constipated or Not?
It is quite easy to spot if your dog is constipated or not. However, vigilance and observational skills are of great importance in this regard for the simple fact that your hound cannot talk and tell you outright, “Hey, I’m constipated!” That being said, you should make it a point to have an idea of the more-or-less normal frequency of your dog’s bowel elimination. If your dog ‘normally’ passes stools on a daily basis, then you can easily tell that something is wrong if your dog doesn’t poop for about 2 days in a row. This is highly unusual for a dog that is regularly moving its bowels every day.
Given that the symptomatic management of constipation in dogs can bring about a host of side effects or complications, many pet parents do not want to go down that road. Most veterinarians do not recommend such symptomatic treatments outright since they also know the risks involved. As such, you may be relieved to learn that there are natural ways that are also proven to help manage stools in a constipated hound.
Fiber doesn’t have any nutritive value. What it does is that it actually increases the bulk of your dog’s stool to push it towards the anus. The addition of fiber into the colon also helps stimulate peristalsis which can further aid in the passing of stools. Excellent choices are psyllium husk powder, canned pumpkin, coconut fiber, and even pulverized dark green leafy vegetables.
Sometimes the most complex of issues can be solved by the simplest things. Take for instance water. Increasing water intake can help liquefy the environment upon which the stool is impacted on. It is like administering an enema except that it is coursed through your dog’s mouth instead of through its anus. The challenge now is how you can encourage your dog to drink more.
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- Canned or wet dog food
If you cannot make your dog to drink more than necessary be prepared to shell out some of your savings and buy your dog premium quality wet or canned dog food. These formulations typically come with 70 to 85 percent water which should help improve fluidity of the stool. Moreover, the digestible proteins that are present in such formulations of dog food can help improve the tone of the smooth muscles of the colon, facilitating peristaltic contractions. Do take note that this should only supplement actual water intake. If you can get your dog to drink more water, you can think of the canned dog food as an aid.
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Just like in humans, exercise can provide a lot of benefits including improvement of blood circulation. Sometimes, all the colon needs is a fresh supply of blood to help fuel its cells with oxygen and nutrients for them to contract with greater efficiency. Unfortunately, if your dog happens to have other symptoms such as lethargy in addition to constipation, getting it to exercise may be quite challenging.
- Natural laxatives
Milk can be a very important natural laxative for constipated dogs. Giving you pooch a bowl of fresh milk should get it to pass stools within hours until the following day. Some also recommend giving olive oil or even mineral oil. However, be cautious when giving such natural laxatives as you can produce the opposite – diarrhea. A concoction of chicken broth and ginger has also been proven to do the trick of helping dogs move their bowels more efficiently. The fat in the chicken broth together with the ability of ginger to aid in bowel movement can help move those impacted feces.
There are now a host of natural supplements that are designed specifically to help dogs supplements is that they are not regulated by the FDA. As such you can actually encounter supplements that may not do anything at all. Some may also be tainted with grossly forbidden substances so do your research diligently. Your veterinarian can also point you to the best supplements for canine constipation.
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- Alternative therapies
Naturopathic and holistic canine practitioners will typically recommend acupuncture, acupressure, and even chiropractic to help relieve constipation in dogs. These are proven alternative medical practices that are also recommended by some veterinary practitioners, although you won’t see the medical profession throwing its support for such practices. These are worth a try especially if you have already tried most of the natural remedies we have shared here.
Is There a Way to Prevent Constipation in Dogs?
Just as there are many ways to help a dog with constipation, there are also countless ways by which you can prevent such a condition from ever occurring. While there are dogs that are more predisposed to constipation than other dogs, preventive measures are generalized. Here are some of the proven ways in which you can prevent constipation in dogs.
- Breed-specific, life stage-specific, and high-quality dog food
One of the most common causes of constipation is not getting the right nutrients that are appropriate for its breed and life stage. One should always strive to give dogs a well-balanced meal filled with highly digestible proteins, the right amounts of fats, and dietary fiber to help aid in the normal passage of stools in the colon. If there are breed-specific diets, then, by all means, purchase them for your dog. They may be more expensive, but they contain highly specific nutrients for your breed of pet. Also, go for life stage-specific diets. If you have a puppy, then go for puppy food. If you have a senior dog, then switch to one that is specially formulated for seniors.
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- Avoid dietary indiscretion
In addition to not giving the right kind of food to dogs, we also have the tendency to give our dogs human foods that may cause constipation in them. These human foods may be great for us, but some dogs can get constipated with them. For instance, bananas are known to cause constipation both in humans and dogs. Also, keep your dog from eating non-edible items such as sticks, rocks, and even kitty litter clumps. Anything that is considered as junk should be avoided at all cost.
- Probiotics, prebiotics, and digestive enzymes
Yogurt is always a good choice when it comes to promoting healthier digestion. These contain live microorganisms that can help improve gut and colon health. They help improve the digestion of food molecules which can aid in promoting a more efficient passage of stools.
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- Fresh drinking water and exercise
As we have already mentioned above, drinking plenty of water and getting enough exercise can help in normal bowel movement. Water allows for softer stool formation while exercise improves oxygenation and the delivery of nutrients to the walls of the colon.
Constipation in dogs is not a very common occurrence. But when it does present itself, it is usually the result of something else. To help eliminate constipation, you and your vet will have to identify the exact cause of the constipation so that you can address the root cause. In the meantime, you can already observe a handful of symptomatic management techniques that have been proven effective for dogs with constipation. And once the constipation has subsided, make sure to prevent it from occurring again by giving your pet a well-balanced diet, regular physical exercise, and plenty of clean, fresh water.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.