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Constipation in Dogs

While occasional gastrointestinal upset may not be concerning, constipation can lead to serious complications in some cases. Here, our Arlington vets discuss the common signs and causes, how to treat constipation in dogs and when to seek emergency care. 

What is constipation?

Constipation is an infrequent or difficult passage of stool (poop). This is a temporary condition that usually clears up quickly once treatment begins. Obstipation, however, is a severe form of constipation. This condition is often connected to a serious, permanent or irreversible medical condition.

Water absorption is one of the colon's main functions, causing the retained stool to become hard and dry. This can contribute to a dog's difficulties when attempting to defecate.

When a dog is constipated, it is likely to strain while trying to pass stool. This can result in small amounts of liquid, including blood and feces, squeezing around the hardened stool, leading many dog owners to believe their dog has diarrhea. 

Signs of Constipation in Dogs

There are several signs of constipation in dogs. Are your dog's bowel movements infrequent, difficult to pass or absent altogether? If so, your furry friend may be suffering from constipation.

Straining when attempting to pass a stool and/or producing hard, dry stools are signs that a vet should examine your dog as soon as possible.

Constipated dogs may pass mucus when trying to defecate, circle excessively, scoot along the ground, or squat frequently without defecating. If you press on their stomach or lower back, they may have a tense, painful abdomen that causes them to growl or cry out.

What causes constipation in dogs?

A wide range of potential contributing factors can lead to constipation in dogs. Some of these include:

  • Insufficient daily exercise
  • Not enough fiber in the diet
  • Sudden change in diet or sampling new foods
  • Ingesting hair due to excessive self-grooming
  • Enlarged prostate gland
  • Neurological disorder
  • Side effects of medication
  • Ingested pieces of toys, plants, dirt, bones, and gravel caught in the intestinal tract
  • Pain due to orthopedic issues when trying to defecate
  • Dehydration
  • Masses, tumors, or obstructions on the anus or within the rectum
  • Matted hair around the anus
  • Trauma to pelvis
  • Abscessed or blocked anal sacks

Treating Constipation in Dogs

When looking at how to relieve constipation in dogs, it's important not to jump on every remedy you find online. It's important to consult your vet first. Some human treatments can be harmful to dogs.

The best approach is to contact your primary care vet and schedule an exam for your dog. The treatment will depend on what's causing the constipation. If your dog ate something they shouldn't have, it could be causing a blockage, which is a serious issue requiring urgent surgery.

Blood tests could show if your pup suffers from dehydration or has an infection. Your vet will probably ask about your dog's medical history, conduct a rectal examination to rule out other abnormalities or causes, and might recommend one or a combination of the following treatments:

  • More exercise
  • A stool softener or another laxative
  • A prescription diet high in fiber
  • Enema (administered by a professional, not at home, as there could be a risk of injury or toxicity if done incorrectly)
  • Medication to increase the large intestine's contractile strength
  • A small bowl of goat or cow milk
  • Adding more fiber to your dog's diet (wheat bran, canned pumpkin, or products such as Metamucil)

Carefully follow your vet's instructions because trying too many of these or the wrong combination could cause the opposite problem - diarrhea. You don't want to swap one digestive issue for another.

Is milk a good laxative for dogs?

While this information is swirling around the internet, milk is not a safe or healthy method of softening your dog's stool. Unfortunately, the effects of lactose on a dog can cause diarrhea, leading to serious complications.

Can changing dog food cause constipation?

Dogs do best when the type of food they eat is consistent. However, there may be times when a change in their food is necessary to meet their growing needs. The key is to switch foods slowly, as an abrupt diet change can cause vomiting, excess gas, constipation or diarrhea.

When you change their food, you should mix it at 25% new food and 75% current food. Every couple of days, you should increase the amount of new food while decreasing the amount of the previous food. After a week or two, your dog should eat the new food independently.

When to Seek Emergency Veterinary Care for Constipation

Constipation in dogs can cause you to wonder what to do. If your dog has a single episode of diarrhea and is otherwise acting normal, it is likely not a cause for concern. Monitor your dog's bowel movements to see if things clear up. More than two episodes could indicate a problem, and you should contact your nearest emergency vet in Arlington.

If your dog is straining to pass a stool but only passing small amounts of watery diarrhea, it could be experiencing a painful blockage due to ingesting a foreign object such as a toy. This is a very serious concern and needs veterinary attention right away. Contact your vet or come to our emergency veterinary hospital for care.

Recurring bouts of diarrhea over a short period could be a sign of a very serious health issue, particularly if your dog is very old or very young or has a compromised immune system. Infections such as parvovirus are extremely serious, contagious, and life-threatening. Contact your vet immediately if your dog is experiencing repeated episodes of diarrhea.

Dogs showing other symptoms, as well as diarrhea, should be seen by a vet as soon as possible. These include:

  • Blood in stool
  • Unusual drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of Appetite
  • Weakness
  • Signs of dehydration (Sunken, dry-looking eyes, dry nose, or dry, sticky gums)

If your dog displays any symptoms that cause concern, contact the vets at our emergency animal hospital in Arlington immediately.

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.

Is your dog in need of emergency veterinary care? Contact our Arlington vets during regular office hours or a nearby 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital.

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