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Constipation in Dogs: Causes & Treatments

We run down the causes, treatment, and prevention of typical dog constipation.

Written by: Melvin Peña

Last Updated on January 22, 2024 by Dogster Team

A dog straining to poop or constipated outside in a field of grass.

Constipation in Dogs: Causes & Treatments

While it’s not something we talk about publicly very often, we all have habits when it comes to evacuating our bowels. Dogs are much the same. Regardless of a dog’s particular pooping proclivities, under optimal conditions, dogs tend to do their business once or twice daily.

It might seem a bit odd, but it’s important for a number of reasons to make a habit of observing your dog’s pooping habits. Over time, the frequency, consistency, and effort required when a dog expels feces can give you a good way to spot common issues like dog constipation.

When you have a firm sense of the general appearance of your dog’s feces, you may note that a constipated dog is not only producing dung more slowly and with more effort, but that the dung that does emerge is smaller, and appears firmer, harder, darker, and drier than normal. People who walk dogs in public areas and carry bags to clean up will have additional insight into the consistency and feel of their dog’s poop. The tactile sensations described above may be a more immediate alert to dog constipation than sight alone.

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What causes dog constipation?

The most common causes of constipation in dogs are similar to those in humans. In mild or infrequent cases, your dog might be getting insufficient fiber in her diet. If a dog is overweight or not getting enough regular exercise, lack of movement itself may discourage the free movement of feces through the colon. Dehydration has an impact on the movement of feces through the colon. When a dog isn’t drinking enough water and waste remains for longer than usual in the colon, the feces can absorb all the fluid available to it. With insufficient lubrication, the conditions are right for dog constipation. Constipation is also more common in dogs as they reach middle age and later in life.

Food particles or ingested items that are either difficult to digest or are too large to be fully processed by the digestive system can cause constipation in dogs. If your dog tends to chew on and eat everything from her usual food to bits of shoe, constipation can be a more persistent problem.

Stress is also a common cause of dog constipation. Sudden changes in circumstances or surroundings can cause a dog to withhold his customary deposits. The stress of travel, for instance, can provoke constipation. A dog that is unaccustomed to extended periods of confinement and restriction without regular opportunities to move at liberty may find it difficult to defecate for a short time afterward.

Household dog laxative treatments

If your dog has a mild case of constipation, which is not part of an already existing or chronic condition, there are very simple things you can try to move things along. The common and accepted wisdom is that dog constipation can be treated with minor additions to a dog’s diet. If your dog’s food does not contain a normal source of fiber, you can provide fiber by opening a can of pumpkin and serving a little bit at a time to your dog with her meals for a day or two. Another commonly described household treatment is to add water to dry kibble to make it easier to digest, or to combine your dog’s food with milk.

Over the counter laxatives are not recommended for use the first time you notice your dog dealing with constipation. If the problem seems serious enough for laxatives, it is probably a better idea to err on the side of caution and take your dog to a veterinarian.

Signs of more advanced problems

If dog constipation persists for more than a couple of days, if the dog is drinking enough water and still having problems, and if you’ve tried a simple dietary solution that has proved ineffective, constipation may be part of a larger problem. Likewise, if you note that your dog is straining in her normal feces-producing position and nothing emerges at all, the condition may not be constipation at all, but something more severe. When a dog cannot evacuate its bowels, the passage may be obstructed, which is a problem that a veterinarian is better equipped to deal with.

Dog constipation is of greater concern in older dogs, where it is more common. An older dog with frequent constipation may have developed other problems associated with advanced age, such as polyps, tumors, or enlargement of the prostate, particularly in male dogs. If straining and constipation is accompanied by feces that feature blood or mucus, your dog might be suffering from colitis.

Preventing frequent recurrence of constipation

Regular observation of your dog’s defecation habits will allow you, as a dog owner, to better evaluate whether dog constipation is a temporary issue or potentially a sign of a more serious medical issue. If you have a constipated dog and the problem recurs frequently or is accompanied by any of the other, more extreme problems or signs detailed above, your best course of action is to visit your veterinarian. A nuanced understanding of your dog’s dung-craft will assist your vet in formulating the most efficient solution.

Does your canine friend suffer from dog constipation on occasion? What home remedies have you used and found effective to treat mild cases of constipation in dogs? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

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Featured Image Credit: malamus-UK | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

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