- Mild constipation can be easy to fix — There are several at-home remedies to ease symptoms, but you should ask your vet for medical advice if the problem persists or if your dog is in distress.
- Pay attention to potty habits — Knowing how often your dog poops and occasionally measuring their stools against a fecal scoring chart can help you prevent a severe build-up.
- Chronic constipation can have serious consequences —Your dog’s stools can harden and get stuck in their colon, resulting in a dangerous condition called obstipation if not properly addressed.
Most dogs poop at least once a day, and many have multiple bowel movements daily. Dog constipation happens when they experience infrequent bowel movements or there’s a sudden change in their regular poop schedule, which can look different depending on the dog. For example, if your pup routinely poops three times a day and hasn’t pooped in 24 hours, they are likely constipated.
Mild constipation can usually be cured with home remedies such as added fiber in the form of canned pumpkin. However, you should always take your dog to the vet for severe cases — like if the issue doesn’t resolve within 48 hours or if they’re experiencing other signs of discomfort.
Symptoms and signs of constipation in dogs
The first and most important thing to do is to identify whether your dog is actually pooping or not. Dogs generally poop at least once a day, so if they haven’t pooped in 24 hours, then it’s likely they’re at least mildly constipated. If it’s been two or more days since they’ve had a bowel movement, then you may be dealing with severe constipation and you should contact your veterinarian immediately.
Cleaning up your dog’s poop regularly and taking note of bowel movements on their daily walks can help you quickly identify whether or not they’re doing their business as usual. As unappetizing as this may sound, it’s vital to pay attention to the poop itself.
Use a fecal scoring chart to learn the signs of healthy poop versus constipation or diarrhea. A healthy digestive system should produce poops that score a “2” or “3” on the above chart, while a “1” is a clear sign of constipation.
Other signs of constipation in dogs include:
- Bloody stool. Always be on the lookout for blood in fecal matter, as this can be a serious issue that needs immediate medical attention.
- Lethargy. A sudden decrease in their regular exercise can be one of the first signs that your pup isn’t feeling well.
- Lack of appetite. Dog constipation can cause a decrease in regular eating habits since the digestive tract can’t eliminate itself properly.
- Scooting. While butt scooting can be triggered by other things, including full anal glands, environmental or food allergies, constipation may be to blame.
- Straining or crying. If your dog assumes their pooping position but fails to produce stool, they’re likely constipated—especially if they’re whining or in obvious distress.
- Bloated belly. A severely bloated stomach may mean your dog is experiencing bad gas, but it could also be a sign of a life-threatening condition called gastric dilatation volvulus. Take your dog to the vet if you notice sudden bloating.
- Vomiting. Unfortunately, food has to go somewhere. If it can’t go down their digestive tract the normal way, your dog may feel sick enough to start vomiting.
Erica Irish, DVM
Vomiting more than once or twice in a short time frame also requires immediate medical attention.
What causes dog constipation?
Constipation in canines may be caused by preventable factors as simple as dehydration or poor nutrition. Accidents and emergencies, such as swallowing a foreign object, might also lead to a bowel obstruction, but this rarely happens.
Usually, swallowed objects become obstructed in the small intestines before they can reach the large intestine causing constipation. However, dogs who’ve eaten toxic or foreign material may still strain when pooping — not from constipation, but from diarrhea. In either case, a trip to the vet is often necessary.
As your dog ages, they’re more likely to naturally develop chronic constipation, especially if your senior dog has trouble squatting in the poop position. Some of the most common reasons your dog might struggle to go include:
- Dehydration. Water is needed to flush waste through your dog’s system. If your dog isn’t drinking enough water, they may pass dry, hard stools or might not have a bowel movement at all.
- Diet. Not enough fiber and too much calcium can cause constipation.
- Lack of exercise. Running, jumping, and playing fetch get your dog’s blood flowing and can help to gently move stool. Sedentary dogs are more likely to experience constipation than active pups.
- Aging. As your dog approaches their senior years, their activity level slows down and it might become more difficult to squat due to arthritis. These factors can lead to a temporary inability to produce stool.
- Medications. It’s common for certain medicines to cause dog constipation, especially if your dog has recently undergone surgery and also isn’t exercising much.
- Tumors. It’s probably not the first thing to think about when your dog experiences constipation, but some tumors can partially block their digestive system.
- Enlarged prostate. Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) occurs less frequently in neutered dogs, but all male dogs are at risk of this condition. Similarly, all male dogs can develop cancerous prostate tumors.
- Central nervous system problems. Spinal injuries and diseases can result in constipation. Usually, though, there will be more obvious signs, such as trouble walking.
- Stress. Something in the environment can be inhibiting your dog from doing their business, like a new pet or a change in routine.
👉 Monitor whether or not your dog is drinking water. Always take them to the vet if they go more than 24 hours without drinking.
At-home remedies for dog constipation
Mild cases of constipation can usually be resolved at home. However, if more than 48 hours pass without a poo or if your dog is in obvious pain, you should take them to the vet for alternate treatment options.
If your pup is just starting to display the signs of constipation and doesn’t have the symptoms of moderate to severe constipation, don’t panic. You can start with the following home remedies, but remember that if the constipation is recurring or the symptoms don’t clear up, a trip to the vet is likely necessary. Here are some things you might try to encourage your dog to go on their own:
- Pure pumpkin puree — Adding a bit more fiber to your dog’s diet is a good idea if you notice that their poops have been irregular or overly hard. A common home remedy is to add some canned, pureed pumpkin (100% pumpkin, NOT pumpkin pie filling) to your pup’s diet. However, it’s not a miracle cure and some studies conclude that pumpkin may not be as effective as popularly believed.
- Fig paste. While pumpkin is known to quell general digestive upset, this study from the Korean Association for Laboratory Animal Science discovered that fig paste was a more viable treatment for constipation.
- Ginger. Frequently used in humans as a natural anti-inflammatory agent that aids digestion, ginger can help calm your dog’s upset stomach and gently move their bowels. As with any dog supplement, ask your vet how much you should give them and how often.
- Stool softeners. Psyllium (the active ingredient in products like Metamucil) is a fiber-rich supplement that works as a stool softener. Consult your veterinarian for the recommended dosage.
- Increase water intake — Always make sure your pup has access to plenty of water, especially when they’re dehydrated or constipated. Some dogs are attracted to running water, so installing a pet water fountain might encourage these curious canines to drink. Additionally, you can try feeding your furry friend some canned wet food or drizzle a little bit of olive oil over their dry food to add moisture to their diet.
- Prioritize exercise — We get it. Schedules are busy, and despite your best attempts, sometimes it’s difficult to find time for a regular walk or trip to the dog park. However, if your pup is having trouble going potty, prioritize an extra walk to set things back in motion.
Exercise naturally helps the digestive system to kick into high gear and can help to clear out blockages. Taking your dog on frequent walks around your neighborhood or dog park can be your best bet. Not only will they receive stimulating exercise, but all the smells from the other dogs who’ve made previous use of that special bush can kick in your dog’s instincts to mark their territory.
When to visit the vet
If your dog hasn’t passed any stool for over 48 hours—or if they frequently experience bouts of constipation—you should take them to the vet. Untreated constipation can result in poop getting stuck along your dog’s colon, which is an issue known as obstipation. Once this happens, a condition called “megacolon ” can occur, which means their bowels become distended and they can’t poop normally. The prognosis is generally good with a surgical procedure called a subtotal colectomy, which removes the affected part of the colon.
Vet visit checklist for constipated dogs
Your vet will ask you several questions to try to determine the length and cause of your dog’s constipation. If possible, it’s helpful to come up with the following:
- A stool sample. We know it might be hard to procure a stool sample if you’re going to the vet to treat constipation. Try searching your yard for the most recent specimen. Just make sure you can determine that it belongs to your dog, not the local wildlife.
- Notes on your dog’s food, diet, and the last time you saw them go. Your vet will need to know what type of food your dog eats, as well as how much, and the last time they pooped. Be sure to list any possible medications your dog may be taking as well since drugs can interact with your dog’s digestive system.
- Other potential signs and symptoms. Be sure to tell your vet about any abnormal behaviors or changes, including loss of appetite or lethargy.
Treatment and prevention of dog constipation
Veterinary treatment of dog constipation depends on the cause. In chronic or severe cases, your vet may perform a rectal exam, ultrasound, X-ray or radiograph, or colonoscopy to rule out tumors or other obstructions. They also may be able to remove the impacted poop manually.
If megacolon has occurred, your dog will need surgery to remove part of the bowels. This is only in serious cases, however, and the prognosis is generally good following surgery.
Most mild, one-time cases can be resolved without surgery. Your vet may advise lifestyle changes, such as a high-fiber diet and more exercise. They may also give your dog an enema or prescribe medications depending on the circumstances.
Sometimes a prescription diet may be necessary, especially if you have a senior dog with other health conditions. For young, healthy dogs, constipation can usually be avoided by making sure they receive plenty of fresh water, exercise, and a balanced, vet-approved diet with a high amount of fiber. Always make sure to talk to your vet though if you have concerns or if it appears to be a recurring problem.
Dog constipation is a sticky situation, but usually, it resolves on its own within 48 hours. However, you should always take your dog to the vet if the two-day mark passes without a poop because lingering feces can result in serious health issues, including impacted bowels and megacolon.
Frequently asked questions
How do you get a dog unconstipated?
Making sure your dog stays hydrated, feeding them dietary supplements like pumpkin, and taking them for a walk should usually clear mild cases of constipation. If it doesn’t go away after 48 hours, or if your dog is showing other signs of abnormal behavior such as whining or scooting, you should take them to the vet for appropriate treatment. They may have an underlying condition that requires immediate medical care.
How long is it okay for a dog to be constipated?
Dogs usually poop at least once a day. If two days pass without a poop or if they regularly produce dry stools, it’s time for a vet visit.
How can I loosen my dog’s bowel blockage at home?
Giving your dog safe sources of dietary fiber—such as pumpkin puree or fig paste—combined with a brisk walk around the neighborhood will usually convince most dogs to poop. While your vet may give your dog an enema, you should never try this at home since it can hurt them. If simple at-home remedies don’t do the trick, be sure to take your dog to the vet for treatment.
When is it necessary to take a constipated dog to the vet?
If more than two days pass since their last poop, or your dog experiences other signs that they aren’t feeling well, you should take them to the vet to make sure they’re okay. They could’ve eaten something they weren’t supposed to, such as a hair tie or something toxic, and could need immediate medical intervention. You should also take them to the vet if they’re chronically constipated since this can be a sign of an underlying medical issue.
What to do about chronic dog constipation?
Constipation should be a rare occurrence in dogs. Chronic constipation can be an indicator of an underlying cause, such as a disease or tumor, so it’s important to take your dog to the vet for an accurate diagnosis of your pet. At the very least, your vet may suggest lifestyle changes such as feeding them a high-fiber diet and taking them on daily walks. More than likely, they’ll also conduct a physical exam, laboratory tests, and non-invasive imaging to find the cause of constipation and make sure nothing serious is going on.