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Why is my dog constipated and what should I do?

Experiencing constipation can be uncomfortable for our dogs - and worrying for their people. Our Thousand Oaks vets share causes and signs of constipation in dogs and tips for treating the condition. 

What is constipation in dogs?

Have your pup's bowel movements been absent, infrequent or difficult? If so, she's suffering from one of the most common health problems our veterinarians in Thousand Oaks see in pets' digestive systems - constipation. 

Inability to pass feces, or pain when attempting to pass feces is considered a veterinary medical emergency and will need immediate care at an animal hospital. 

Other common symptoms include straining or passing mucus when trying to defecate and/or producing dry, hard stools. You may notice your dog also circles excessively, squats frequently or scoots along the ground. 

If you gently press their stomach or lower back, they may have a tense, painful abdomen that makes them cry or growl. 

What causes constipation in dogs?

Many factors can contribute to a dog's constipation:

  • Side effect of medication 
  • Enlarged prostate gland
  • Trauma to pelvis
  • Sudden change in diet or sampling new foods
  • Excessive self-grooming (may cause large amount of hair to collect in the stool)
  • Matted hair surrounding anus (caused by obesity or lack of grooming)
  • Lack of exercise
  • Orthopedic issue causing pain when a dog positions himself to defecate
  • Excessive or insufficient fiber in his diet
  • Blocked or abscessed anal sacs 
  • Neurological disorder
  • Ingested pieces of toys, gravel, plants, dirt and bones caught in the intestinal tract
  • Obstruction caused by tumors or masses on the anus, or within the rectum
  • Illness leading to dehydration 

Elderly pets may experience constipation more often. However, any dog that faces one or more of the scenarios above can suffer from constipation.

What are the symptoms of constipation in dogs?

Signs of constipation include straining, crying or crouching when attempting to defecate. Also, if it’s been more than two days since he has had a bowel movement, you should see your vet immediately.

Keep in mind that these symptoms may be similar to those that could point to a urinary tract issue, so it’s important that your vet perform a full physical exam to diagnose the cause.

How is constipation in dogs treated?

Google “How to treat constipation in dogs” and you’ll find wide-ranging advice, from sources both trustworthy and dubious.

The best thing to do is to check in with your vet in Thousand Oaks and bring your dog in to our veterinary hospital for an exam. Blood tests may help reveal infection or dehydration. The vet will likely take a medical history, conduct a rectal examination to rule out other causes or abnormalities, and may recommend one or a combination of these treatments:

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

Follow your vet’s instructions closely, as trying too many of these or the wrong combination may bring on the opposite problem - diarrhea. You don’t want to trade one digestive problem for another.

Fortunately, at VSEC we have an in-house lab where diagnostic tests are performed, and an in-house lab and pharmacy that’s stocked with a range of medications and prescription diets, providing us quick access to any medications your pet may need while in our care.

What can happen if my dog’s constipation is not treated?

If your dog’s constipation goes untreated, he may eventually be unable to empty his colon on his own (a condition called obstipation). The colon then becomes packed with an uncomfortably large amount of feces, causing lethargy, unproductive straining, loss of appetite and potentially vomiting.

Is your dog showing symptoms of constipation? Contact our veterinary clinic in Thousand Oaks before this issue turns into a major health concern.

New Patients Welcome

VSEC Thousand Oaks is accepting new patients! Our board-certified specialists and experienced emergency veterinarians are passionate about restoring good health to animal companions.

Contact (805) 492-2436