Dog Constipation: What Causes It and How to Help Your Pup

By: Dr. Sarah WootenUpdated:

A dog laying on a couch with a sad expression
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Dog Constipation: What Causes It and How to Help Your Pup

Dog constipation: It’s the worst. The sight of your precious pup straining to poop is heartbreaking, and can leave pet parents deeply concerned about their health. When a dog is constipated, they are either not pooping often enough, defecation is difficult or painful for them, or they don’t completely evacuate their bowels when they do poop. The good news is that it’s usually not life-threatening, but it can become deadly if your dog experiences a complete intestinal blockage. Find out what the signs of dog constipation are, what to do if you notice it, and how to lower your dog’s risk of developing it.

What Are the Signs of Constipation?

Normal, healthy dogs should defecate once or twice a day, usually in the morning. If your dog is eating normally but goes longer than 48 hours without having a bowel movement, then they could be constipated. Other signs of dog constipation include:

  • scant, hard, dry feces
  • straining to poop, or posturing like they are going to poop but nothing or very little comes out
  • small amounts of liquid stool or mucus stool
  • fresh blood present on the surface of their fecal matter
  • occasional loss of appetite, vomiting, excessive tiredness
  • abdominal distention in severe cases

What Causes Constipation?

When it comes to constipation, a better question might be, "What doesn’t cause it?" Common causes of constipation in dogs include:

Constipation can also occur alongside any disease that causes digestive problems and/or impedes normal passage of feces through the gastrointestinal tract. This can include birth defects, perineal hernias, rectal prolapse, and more. Surgery and anesthesia can also cause constipation in dogs, and certain drugs can impact the digestive tract, including:

  • antihistamines
  • opioids
  • sucralfate
  • antacids
  • diuretics
  • iron supplements
  • Kaopectolin
  • anticholinergics, such as atropine

In some cases, the cause of constipation is unknown.

What To Do If Your Dog Is Constipated

If you suspect your dog is constipated, it is always a good idea to call your veterinarian for advice. Remember that there are many causes of constipation—some more serious than others—and it is better to determine and resolve any underlying health problems, if possible, to prevent recurrent constipation and other problems.

If you notice your dog is acting constipated, make sure your dog is peeing normally. Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell the difference between constipation and difficulty urinating, and while constipation is rarely a life-threatening issue, urinary problems can be. Make sure your dog is peeing normally and if they aren’t, take them to the veterinarian as soon as possible that day.

If your pup is peeing normally but still acting constipated, it is still a good idea to get them checked out by your veterinarian as soon as you can. If you can’t get into the vet right away, there are some home remedies that may help your furry friend:

  • Offer unrestricted access to fresh, clean water
  • Offer your dog some canned food instead of dry
  • Add fresh water to dry food
  • Take them for a walk or play fetch with them twice a day
  • Offer a small amount of canned pumpkin once a day (1 tablespoon for small dogs, 2 tablespoons for medium dogs, 2 tablespoons for large dogs)
  • Offer probiotics
  • Talk to your vet about discontinuing any drugs that may be causing constipation

It is not recommended to give stool softeners to your dog without the guidance of a veterinarian, as these medications can make the problem worse if they are used incorrectly.

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When To Take a Constipated Dog to the Vet

Chronic constipation or severe constipation (called obstipation) can permanently damage the large intestine, and other symptoms can be signs of serious illness. Take your dog to the vet or a local emergency clinic the same day if they are showing these symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Refusing to drink water
  • Refusing to eat for longer than 1 day

These signs are less serious, but still warrant an appointment with your vet:

  • They have been constipated for 48 hours or longer
  • They are otherwise acting sick in any way

Your veterinarian will take an oral history from you, conduct a full physical examination of your dog including a rectal examination, and recommend testing if appropriate. Bring a fresh stool sample with you for testing if possible. It is also helpful to take a video of your dog straining to poop so your vet can see what you see.

Medical Treatment for Dog Constipation

Testing and treatment of constipation varies depending on the underlying cause. Typical tests may include blood tests, radiographs (x-rays), abdominal ultrasound and fecal testing. A colonoscopy or MRI may be recommended to detect abnormalities in some cases.

Treatment for constipation may involve all or some of the following:

  • Treating the underlying cause
  • Fluid therapy (under the skin or intravenous) if the dog is dehydrated
  • Warm water or saline enemas
  • Laxatives or other medications, such as Cisapride, that increase intestinal motility
  • Sedation and manual removal of feces from the dog’s rectum

If your dog is prescribed medication to be given at home, read the label completely, give the medication as directed, and ask your veterinary care provider to clarify any questions you have. Your veterinarian will likely want to see your dog back for a recheck to make sure everything is going well.

Your dog may also be prescribed a therapeutic dog food that is either designed to reduce stool volume (low residue) or bulk up stool volume (high fiber). Your veterinarian will prescribe the food they think will help resolve your dog’s constipation, but it is up to you to monitor how your dog is doing on the food.

It is helpful for you to keep a record of how your dog is doing for at least 3 weeks after seeing the vet. Are they pooping every day? Do they have normal stool quality? Any digestive system issues with constipation or loose stool? If you are noticing problems with constipation or loose stool on the food, call your vet for advice.

How to Prevent Constipation in Dogs

Strategies you can use to reduce your dog’s likelihood of developing constipation include:

  • Dog-proofing your home to prevent your pup from eating items they shouldn’t
  • Offering unrestricted access to fresh, clean water
  • Using slow transitions when you change your dog’s diet
  • Exercising moderation when feeding your dog human food
  • Taking your dog for a walk or play fetch with them twice a day
  • Keeping your dog at a healthy weight
  • Having your dog checked by a veterinarian yearly to catch any problems early
  • Getting prompt veterinary attention if your dog needs it
Thinking of changing your dog’s diet to something that’s a little friendlier to their digestive tract? Find out the best way to switch your pet’s food.

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By: Dr. Sarah WootenUpdated:

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