Dogs can suffer from a variety of intestinal issues, including the occasional bout of constipation. This isn’t usually a big deal, and most dogs will begin pooping normally again in a day or two.
However, it can (rarely) lead to serious health problems, and constipated dogs certainly feel pretty rotten when they can’t poop, so it isn’t something you want to ignore.
We’ll explain below the reasons dogs become constipated, the symptoms that may suggest your dog is having trouble eliminating normally, and what to do about it.
Key Takeaways: What Can I Give My Dog for Constipation?
- Constipation is a pretty common problem for dogs. Minor cases of constipation will typically resolve on their own within a day or two, but you’ll want to contact your vet if the constipation lasts longer than 72 hours, if your dog exhibits any other symptoms, or if it becomes a chronic problem.
- There are a few things you can use or try to help ease your pooch’s poopin’ problem. For example, you can encourage your dog to drink more water or take him out for an extra-long walk to help move things along.
- There are medications that can help address your dog’s constipation, but you’ll only want to use these with your vet’s approval. Never give your pet any medication — including an over-the-counter medication — without first touching base with your vet.
Why Do Dogs Become Constipated?
Dogs aren’t that different from humans, so they often become constipated for the same reasons we do. Some of the most common causes of constipation in canines include:
Foreign Object Ingestion
Dogs occasionally sneak a bite of any number of inedible (or partially edible) items that will cause them to have trouble pooping.
This doesn’t technically cause constipation, but it is still a serious problem that requires immediate veterinary attention. Also, because foreign object ingestion and constipation both make it difficult for a dog to eliminate properly, the two issues are easy to confuse.
Water is crucial for the proper movement of food and waste through your dog’s intestines. If your dog becomes dehydrated, his feces may harden, which will make it very difficult for him to poop normally.
Accordingly, one of the first steps you’ll want to take when dealing with a constipated dog is to encourage him to drink more water. Pedialyte can also be used to quickly hydrate your pooch in some circumstances.
Some medications cause constipation. Opioid pain medications are some of the most frequent culprits, but antihistamines, diuretics, and antacids can also cause constipation for some dogs.
Don’t stop giving your dog any medication your vet recommends, but be sure to mention the constipation problem to your vet, as he or she may be able to change your dog’s prescription or provide other solutions.
Lack of Exercise
Exercise and activity are very important for proper intestinal function. Dogs who don’t get enough exercise may struggle with chronic constipation (as well as a variety of other health problems), so be sure that you are allowing your dog to run around for at least 20 minutes or so (and preferably longer) each day.
Generally, young dogs poop pretty frequently, while older dogs do so less often. This seems to be a relatively normal component of the aging process, and it often leads to constipation in senior dogs.
Low-quality dog foods can often lead to constipation, particularly if the food lacks enough fiber. Consider switching to a high-fiber diet dog food that’s better quality that will improve your dog’s digestive tract and see if your dog’s stools get better.
Additionally, different foods affect individual dogs in different ways, and some may simply not work well with your dog’s system.
Rapid food changes can also cause constipation in some cases, although the opposite type of poopy problem is typically more common.
Anal Gland Problems
Dogs have a set of glands surrounding their anus. These glands normally add a waxy secretion to your dog’s feces on the way out of his body. The problem is, anal glands can become clogged at times, which can make it difficult (and potentially painful) for your dog to poop.
A variety of metabolic diseases – including, most notably, hypothyroidism – can cause constipation. Fortunately, hypothyroidism can usually be treated with medication, which should help make it easier for your dog to poop normally.
Cancer and Other Tumor-Causing Illnesses
Dogs that develop intestinal tumors, prostate cancer, or benign prostatic hyperplasia can find it difficult to pass waste, thanks to the blockage the tumors create.
Additionally, tumors outside of the intestinal tract (but inside the abdominal cavity) can also press on the intestines, which may make it difficult for your dog to eliminate normally.
Fear or Anxiety
Psychological and emotional problems can also make a dog struggle with constipation.
Such dogs rarely have a physical problem that requires treatment to restore proper intestinal function, but it can be challenging to soothe their fears and make them feel comfortable trying to poop again.
Do what you can to eliminate any obvious sources of stress and — if necessary — consider reaching out to a dog behaviorist or even talk to your vet about canine anti-anxiety medications.
Also make sure to take into account your dog’s unique environmental stressors and circumstance. For example, if another pet is causing your constipated pup’s problem, you may need to provide more alone time (particularly when trying to get him to go to the bathroom).
It’s also a good idea to ensure that your dog has a secure crate or safe space he can hide in when he’s scared.
Nervous System Problems
A variety of nervous system issues can cause dogs to become constipated. Disc-related problems can make it difficult for dogs to control their bowels, as can any nerve damage that results from a broken tail or some other traumatic injury.
Bone and Joint Problems
You’ve probably noticed that most dogs adopt a characteristic curled posture when trying to poop. This posture relaxes the lower intestines and allows for easy intestinal evacuation.
In some cases, bone or joint problems affecting the spine or hips can make it difficult for dogs to adopt the proper potty posture, which can make them have trouble pooping.
Dog Constipation Symptoms: Signs Your Dog is Constipated
The most obvious sign of constipation in dogs is the lack of any signs, if you catch my drift.
Constipated dogs don’t poop as often as they normally do. So, if your dog, who normally poops every morning in the backyard, goes a day or two without making a bowel movement, you can safely assume he’s constipated.
However, there are a few other signs you can watch for that indicate a constipated canine.
Dogs who are constipated often strain when trying to eliminate, and they’ll occasionally look like they’re in pain or discomfort while trying to do so. Some dogs may only produce a bit of fluid or blood while straining.
Additionally, constipated dogs that are able to pass a little bit of poop will often produce small, hard, rock-like fecal matter. More general signs of constipation may include abdominal pain, belly distention, reduced appetite, and depression.
Potential Signs of Danger With Dog Constipation
Again, constipation is usually not a serious problem in dogs, so don’t panic if your dog doesn’t poop when you take him to the park. Most dogs will resume their normal pooping habits within a day or two.
However, in rare cases, it can signal the presence of an underlying problem. Untreated constipation can also lead to more serious issues. Just be sure to seek veterinary attention if your dog exhibits any of the following signs or symptoms:
- Constipation that lasts longer than 72 hours
- Weakness or lethargy
- Abdominal distension
- Bloody stools that occur before or after constipation sets in
- Food refusal
- Obvious pain (above and beyond the discomfort constipation typically causes)
The primary complications associated with untreated or lengthy constipation include perforation or damage to the intestines. If your dog’s intestines rupture, bacteria will spill into your dog’s body cavity and bloodstream, which can cause very serious illness.
Additionally, serious symptoms may indicate the presence of an intestinal obstruction, which can be extremely dangerous for dogs.
Megacolon: A Potentially Problematic Ramification of Constipation
Megacolon is a condition in which the diameter of a dog’s lower intestines expands drastically, and the smooth muscles stop working as well as they should.
In some cases, they can stop propelling waste through your dog’s intestines entirely.
Megacolon can occur for several different reasons. Some dogs are born suffering from the condition, while others seem to develop the problem inexplicably. However, chronic constipation is thought to be one of the leading reasons megacolon occurs.
Accordingly, you’ll want to treat constipation – particularly chronic constipation – seriously.
How to Prevent Constipation in Dogs: Home Remedies & DIY Treatments
While you’ll want to solicit veterinary advice on behalf of dogs who are suffering from serious or prolonged constipation, you can do a few things to help your dog get over mild cases.
Understand that dogs are all individuals, so different strategies will work better for some dogs than others. Accordingly, you’ll want to start with the simplest treatment options before moving on to more elaborate techniques.
Some of the most common constipation home remedies include:
Encourage Your Dog to Drink Water
The simplest and safest remedy for constipation is often to increase the amount of water in your pet’s intestines, so try to encourage your dog to drink plenty of fresh water.
If your dog isn’t a good drinker, you may be able to tempt him by trying one of the following techniques:
Let him drink from a garden hose or the spray attachment on your kitchen sink. For some reason, dogs who don’t like to drink from a bowl will often greedily lap up water provided in such a manner.
Set your dog up with a dog drinking fountain. The continuous-flowing water keeps that H20 fresh and makes the water more appealing to dogs, often encouraging more drinking.
Offer your dog water from your hand. Some dogs (including mine) appear much more willing to drink water from your cupped hands than from a bowl. Just make sure you wash your hands before and after doing so.
Toss a few ice cubes in your dog’s water dish. Many dogs enjoy playing with and chewing ice cubes, and they’ll end up ingesting a little bit of water in the process. Just try to use small ice cubes, as they’re less likely to damage your dog’s teeth. You could also consider giving your dog shaved ice (without any flavoring).
Add a few drops of salt-free chicken broth to your dog’s water. This will give the water some flavor and improve the taste, which may help encourage him to drink more. Just be careful that you don’t add too much.
Get Your Dog Some Exercise
Regular exercise is often very effective for helping your dog work things out, so grab his tennis ball and head out to the backyard. You could also take your dog on a longer walk than normal or allow him to go swimming.
In fact, swimming is one of the best exercises to help relieve constipation, as it provides a full-body workout.
Offer Constipation-Correcting Food: What Can You Give a Constipated Dog to Eat?
There are a number of foods that may help to increase the amount of water in your dog’s colon or provide some additional dietary fiber to help clear out his pipes, functioning as a DIY dog stool softener.
Three of the best options include:
- Canned pumpkin
- Canned / wet dog food
- A teaspoon or so of olive oil (add it to your pet’s food)
Some authorities also recommend administering a high-fiber supplement to treat constipation in dogs. Switching to high-fiber treats might be helpful as well.
However, you should check with your vet before doing so, and be sure that your dog drinks plenty of water along with any fiber supplement or stool softener you provide him.
Canine Probiotics For Balancing Intestinal Microflora
Some dogs may suffer from constipation because their intestinal microflora becomes imbalanced.
To help address this problem, you can provide supplemental probiotics (beneficial bacteria) to your pup. There are a variety of stand-alone dog-friendly probiotic supplements on the market, and several high-end dog foods are fortified with them as well.
Note that probiotics are unlikely to provide acute relief from constipation, but they can be a valuable part of a comprehensive treatment plan. They may also be helpful in preventing chronic constipation and recurrences.
Veterinary Care For Canine Constipation: What to Expect at the Vet
If you can’t get your dog to start pooping again normally, or he exhibits any of the troubling signs mentioned earlier, you’ll need to make an appointment with your vet. Once there, your vet will try to get to the bottom of the problem and figure out why your dog is constipated.
First, your vet will weigh your dog, check his vital signs, and inquire about his symptoms and general health.
He or she will ask questions about your dog’s typical elimination habits, ask you to describe your dog’s most recent stools, and try to determine how long it has been since his last normal bowel movement.
From there, your vet may perform a variety of different diagnostic techniques, including:
- Physical examination of the anus and rectum
- Urinalysis and blood work
- Abdominal x-rays
- Abdominal palpation
Veterinary Treatments for Dog Constipation
Once your vet determines the reason for your dog’s intestinal issue, he or she can recommend an appropriate course of action.
This may include one or more of the following treatments:
Manually Removing the Feces
This is exactly what it sounds like: Your vet will glove up, dive in, and remove the stubborn poop with his or her fingers.
Your dog is unlikely to enjoy this procedure very much (nor will your vet, but that’s why he or she earns the big bucks), but in the grand scheme of things, it is one of the simplest ways to deal with the problem.
Note that while this sounds like something owners could do at home, you’ll want to leave it to the professionals. It is very easy to cause a perforation or accidentally push the fecal matter farther into the intestines. You need to go to veterinary school to earn the privilege of performing this procedure.
Anal Gland Expression
If your dog’s constipation is caused by clogged anal glands, your vet may need to express (empty) them manually.
This is a relatively simple procedure, but it is probably one of the grossest things vets ever have to do, and it often causes an odor that could wake the dead.
If your dog experiences chronic anal gland problems, your vet may be willing to show you how to empty them yourself. This is certainly not something most owners will relish doing, but it will allow you to avoid frequent trips to the vet.
There are even some videos online that can show you how to do this procedure on your dog. Just…be prepared!
You’ll also want to ensure you provide your pet with a high-fiber food if he struggles with these types of problems, as this can help ensure the glands empty normally.
A variety of medications can be used to help treat constipation, including laxatives and medicines designed to tweak the production of various intestinal enzymes.
Your vet may administer them in the office or tell you to administer them later, once you get home.
Note that the improper use of laxatives and other medications – even those available over the counter – can exacerbate your dog’s condition or even create new problems. Accordingly, you should never give constipated dogs any medications without your vet’s explicit advice to do so.
For the unfamiliar, enemas are special liquid formulas designed to be pumped into your dog’s rectum. Once there, they soften your dog’s stool and allow him to evacuate more easily.
Some enemas are primarily comprised of saline (water), but others also include special chemicals to help stimulate the intestines too.
While people often administer an enema to themselves at home, you should refrain from doing so for your dog.
Not only will most dogs object to the procedure, which means you’ll need help holding him still, it is also very easy to injure your dog’s rectum or intestines while administering it. Additionally, some of the enemas designed for human use can make dogs sick.
Note that an enema typically works fairly quickly, so you’ll usually need to take your dog outside right after the vet administers it.
Canine Constipation FAQs
We’ve covered most of the symptoms, causes, and treatments for constipation in dogs above, but we wanted to answer some of the most common questions owners have about constipated dogs below.
Is milk a good laxative for dogs?
Milk is occasionally effective as a laxative for dogs, but you’ll want to check with your vet first before giving your dog a bowl. In some cases, milk can correct your dog’s constipation but then trigger excessive gas and diarrhea.
Is constipation more prevalent in some breeds than others?
Constipation appears to affect all dog breeds with the same relative frequency. No breeds are immune to the condition, but none seem especially prone to suffer from the problem either.
Can I give my dog a laxative like Dulcolax, Ex-Lax, or some other over-the-counter laxative?
No, you should never give your dog a laxative without first consulting with your vet. Laxatives may sicken some dogs and aggravate their intestines. Some may even contain medications that are toxic to dogs.
How long can my dog go without pooping?
Dogs can go a day or two without pooping before they suffer any serious problems, but you’ll want to go to the vet if he goes longer than three days without eliminating.
Is constipation in dogs an emergency?
Constipation is usually a pretty benign health problem, but if left untreated for an extended period of time, it can cause serious illness or damage the intestines. If your dog goes longer than 72 hours without defecating, you’ll need to seek veterinary assistance.
How can I prevent constipation for recurring?
If your dog suffers from chronic constipation, you’ll want to make sure that you provide him with a high-fiber food and make sure he gets plenty of exercise. It may also be helpful to provide him with a probiotic supplement.
Constipation is a relatively minor problem, and most dogs will recover on their own. However, be sure to watch for any troubling signs which may indicate a more serious problem.
Have you ever had a seriously constipated dog? Did you need to seek veterinary care? Let us know how it went in the comments below!