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common canine health problems

How to help your constipated dog

signs, treatment, and prevention // learn how to help your pupper stay regular

Updated June 19, 2020

the essentials

  • Mild constipation is easy to fix. There are a bunch of home remedies that can make a noticeable difference within 48 hours.
  • Pay attention to potty habits. Severe and long-term constipation can cause your dog serious harm, so knowing and looking out for the signs is vital.
  • Older or injured dogs are at a higher risk for constipation. If your dog has difficulty squatting due to age or injury, then his or her system can get backed up more easily.

How to tell if your dog is constipated

Like many other diseases and issues, it’s much better if you can catch constipation early on, so follow the below tips to try to identify whether your pup has a poop problem before it becomes too severe.

Pay attention to Your dog’s routine

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 (sometimes more depending on diet), so if he hasn’t pooped in a 24-hour period, then it’s likely he’s at least mildly constipated. If it’s been three or more days since he’s had a bowel movement, then you may be dealing with severe constipation and you should contact your veterinarian.

If you have a dog that poops unattended (in the backyard rather than on a walk, for example), it may be more challenging to quickly notice whether your pup is staying regular. If you’re in that situation, we recommend cleaning up your dog’s poop on a regular basis. If you clean up every other day, you will be able to quickly identify when he isn’t doing his business as usual. It will also help with the next tip, below.

💩 Compare your dog’s poop to the fecal scoring chart

As unappetizing as this may sound, it’s vital that you don’t pick up the poo with your eyes closed. A dog’s stool can tell you a lot about his health, including whether he’s constipated. Use a fecal scoring chart (warning: it’s gross) to learn the signs of constipation or diarrhea and look out for them while cleaning up on your walk or in the backyard. A healthy digestive system should produce poops that score a “2” or “3” on the above chart, and a “1” is a clear sign of constipation.

Additionally, always be on the lookout for blood in the stool — this is a serious sign of constipation or other issues that may be causing constipation, and you should immediately contact your veterinarian.

Look for signs of pain or discomfort

If your dog assumes a pooping position but doesn’t produce anything, pay close attention in the coming hours and days. If this happens additional times with the same result, then it’s likely you’re dealing with constipation. Dogs may also circle and scoot their bottom along the floor.

In more obvious and severe cases, the pup might whine or cry while squatting to poop or pass mucus or a small amount of liquid after straining to defecate.

Other signs of constipation

The following are some additional signs that your dog may be dealing with constipation:

  • Intermittent vomiting
  • An obviously distended or bloated belly
  • A lack of energy
  • Little to no appetite

How to help relieve your dog’s constipation

The first step in treatment is to identify the severity of your pups’ constipation. If it’s a mild case, there are a few natural home remedies that could make a big difference within a couple of days. But if your dog’s constipation is more severe, we recommend calling your vet.

First, estimate how bad the constipation is

As a starter, you can view the table below — but if you aren’t sure, it’s always best to give your pet’s veterinarian a quick ring. The veterinarian or staff at the clinic can help you determine when it’s appropriate to try home remedies, or when you should seek expert help and clinical-strength medications and treatments.

Dog Constipation

Levels of severity

Mild Constipation Stool that’s harder than normal (a “1” On the Fecal Scoring Chart) for a few days; No poop in the last 24 hours; Straining to poop, but with no result for one or two potty trips; A general lack of energy or appetite for a day or two
Moderate to Severe Constipation Stool that’s hard and round for more than three days; Blood in the stool; Significant and ongoing pain and discomfort when pooping; No poop in the last 2-3 days Vomiting

If it’s mild constipation, try a few home remedies

If your pup is just starting to display the signs of constipation and doesn’t have the symptoms of moderate to severe constipation, then there’s no need to panic. You can start with the following home remedies, but keep in mind that if the constipation is recurring or the symptoms don’t clear up, a trip to the vet is likely necessary.

Check the backside — As mentioned above, one of the possible causes of constipation is an obstruction at your dog’s anus (where the poop comes out). If you have a long-haired breed, you may need to trim the matted fur using electric clippers. While you’re in the neighborhood, look for anything else obstructing the anus, including debris, tumors, etc.

Add more fiber — Adding a bit more fiber to your dog’s diet is a great step to take if you notice that his poops have been irregular or overly hard. A common home remedy is to add some canned, pureed pumpkin (100% pumpkin NOT pumpkin pie mix) to your pup’s diet. However, veterinary nutritionists suggest that it takes a considerable amount of pumpkin to give your dog an actual therapeutic benefit.

As an alternative, fig paste has been shown to be effective — this study from the Korean Association for Laboratory Animal Science discovered that fig paste was more than a viable treatment for constipation.

Another fiber supplement you can give your constipated pup is Psyllium (the generic name for Metamucil). Consult your veterinarian for the recommended dosage.

Increase water intake — An important and relatively easy step to take is making sure your pup always has access to fresh, clean water. Additionally, you can try feeding your furry friend some canned dog food which will add additional moisture to her diet.

Prioritize exercise — We get it: Schedules are busy, and despite your best attempts, sometimes it’s difficult to find time for that long-walk or trip to the dog park. However, if your pup is having trouble going potty, exercise is something you should prioritize.

Exercise naturally helps the digestive system to kick into high gear and can help to clear out any blockages. Plus, all the smells from the other dogs who’ve made previous use of that special bush can help to stimulate your pup’s natural instincts.

If it’s moderate to severe constipation, go to the vet

Preparing to go to the vet
Before you go to the vet, make sure you are ready to answer some questions and give several important details, including:

  • Discomfort, pain, or straining when trying to poop
  • The last time your pup pooped
  • The color and consistency of the stool
  • Any possible non-food items your dog may have eaten
  • Any recent procedures or injuries
  • Any drug treatments
  • Any changes in your pup’s normal diet or routine
  • Abnormal behavior and signs of distress, such as lack of energy, vomiting, or a bloated or distended belly

The examination
Before recommending treatment, your vet will likely complete an examination. A physical exam will typically include checking the anus for obstructions, determining whether there are any injuries, and examining the stomach for signs of internal blockages and bloating.

If more testing is needed, the vet may take an x-ray, ultrasound, or colonoscopy. Additionally, blood work and urinalysis may be needed.

Possible treatments
After determining the possible cause(s) and severity of constipation in your pup, the vet will prescribe a treatment plan and/or administer treatment, possibly including:

  • A high-fiber diet or fiber additives
  • Supplements and probiotics
  • Laxatives or stool softeners
  • A pet-safe enema
  • Manually removing the feces or blockage
  • Special easy-to-digest dog food

Common causes of constipation in dogs

Diet and dehydration

One of the main reasons for constipation, and thankfully one of the most easily corrected by pet-parents, is diet — pups that don’t eat a consistent, fiber-rich diet are at risk of constipation. Missed meals and ultra-high protein diets can sometimes be a contributing factor.

Dehydration (not getting enough water and liquids) can cause the stool to become hard and create constipation issues. This can occur from just simply not drinking enough water or from other factors such as illness.

Eating things that aren’t food

Another major cause of constipation is internal blockages — this can happen when a dog eats something that isn’t food, such as:

  • A piece of clothing
  • A toy
  • Hair (sometimes caused by excessive self-grooming)
  • Bones
  • Gravel
  • Etc.

Drugs, including from prescribed medications and non-prescribed or accidental ingestion, can lead to minor to major constipation in dogs. After a major surgery or operation, your pup is especially at risk since she likely isn’t getting as much exercise and taking medications for pain or for other reasons.

Lack of exercise, or physical disabilities

Exercise promotes a healthy digestive system, so dogs that live a sedentary lifestyle face a higher risk of constipation. Additionally, severely obese dogs may develop a blockage on the outside of the anus. Note that a blockage in the anus can also occur when the fur around the anus becomes extremely matted.

Various injuries and disabilities, including simple old age, can cause dogs to struggle to squat which makes it difficult for him or her to poop regularly, leading to constipation. Some of the injuries to look out for are:

  • Hernias
  • Spinal injuries
  • Orthopedic disorders
  • Pelvic trauma

Medical conditions or disorders

There are many diseases, disorders, and conditions that can cause dogs to experience constipation, such as:

  • Masses or tumors in the rectum
  • An enlarged prostate
  • A blockage or abscess in the anal sac
  • Neurological disorders
  • Metabolic diseases (such as hypothyroidism)
  • Endocrine disorders