Dogs occasionally become constipated. Constipation is when it becomes difficult for the dog to have a bowel movement, or when bowel movements become infrequent or stop altogether. Constipation in dogs can happen at any age. It's not as common as diarrhea - something most pet owners have had to deal with - but it's also not uncommon, and thankfully usually not a serious issue. That said, constipation should be dealt with quickly to ensure it doesn't cause long-term health problems. Pets may also need be checked out to ensure there isn't a more serious underlying cause.
Signs of constipation can include the following:
Constipation can often be caused by simply being dehydrated. Dogs need to drink an adequate amount of water for their size, activity level, health conditions, and even weather conditions (for example, all dogs will need to drink more water on hot days). Fortunately, in healthy pets, dehydration is usually easily rectified.
Sometimes surgery, or the medications given prior, during, or after surgery, can cause pets to become constipated for several days. After-care instructions after a pet is discharged from surgery, or medication information sheets, will typically mention the possibility of constipation if it could be an issue.
Dogs like to sample things, and that can include things that they really shouldn't be eating - like socks, rocks, shoes, or clothing. These foreign objects can get lodged in the intestines and make it hard (or impossible) for dogs to pass a bowel movement.
Matted fur around the anus can also prevent pets from passing a bowel movement.
The intestinal tract in aging pets can lose muscle tone and make constipation more likely. In addition, many senior dogs have a decreased activity level - exercise is one of those things that helps to keep things "moving along" inside.
Some medical conditions, such as arthritis, can make it harder or more painful for pets to position themselves properly in order to defecate. Other health issues that can make constipation more likely include neurological issues, tumors inside the anus or rectum, an enlarged prostate gland, hernias, anal gland problems, and injuries to the pelvis.
Dehydration is commonly the cause of constipation in dogs. It isn't just that dogs aren't drinking enough from the water bowl, although that can happen; it could also be that the dog's regular diet has very little moisture content, such as dogs that are primarily fed kibble.
Raw-fed dogs can sometimes develop an impacted bowel from the bone fragments that aren't fully-digested and which accumulate in the intestinal tract. One way to reduce this risk is to finely-grind the bones and mix them with the other parts of the meal (ie. meat and/or organs) prior to feeding them.
The stress of a change in routine, surroundings, new people or pets, or anything else out of the ordinary can cause some pets to become constipated.
Pet owners should monitor their dog's bathroom habits to ensure that they're staying 'regular'. Prolonged, untreated, or recurring constipation can lead to the dog becoming unable to empty its colon on his own. Constipation should be resolved fairly quickly. The following are causes for worry, and should result in a call to your vet:
Adding fiber to your dog's diet can sometimes be the simplest way of resolving constipation, as well as helping to prevent it from happening again. Here are a few easy ways to add fiber to your dog's diet on a regular basis. Note, don't do them all at once or you might end up with a different type of bowel issue!
Some pets get constipated for the simple reason that they're not getting enough water. Some medical conditions can make it necessary for dogs to drink more; active pets need more water than couch-potatoes; and every pet needs more water on hot days.
Make sure that there is always a bowl of fresh, clean, cool water available any time they want to drink. Dogs who don't drink enough can be encouraged by using a drinking fountain since many pets enjoy drinking from moving water. Pets who drink a lot may empty the water bowl before you can refill it; in these cases, a pet waterer is a handy tool to keep the water flowing. If your pet is elderly, stiff, or has arthritis, elevating their water dish can make it easier for them to drink (note: this is NOT a good option for dogs who are prone to bloat - talk to your vet).
Another thing you can do is to switched to canned food for a few days, or feed a higher proportion of canned food if your dog normally eats kibble. Canned food contains a lot of water and can help get the bowels moving.
Regular exercise is another important factor in keeping the bowels moving. Take your dog for a brisk walk a couple of times a day if you can. Older dogs who aren't particularly mobile can still go for short, gentle walks, ideally a few times a day (a mobility harness is useful for dogs who need some extra help, including pets recovering from surgery or injury). Check with your vet if your dog has any medical conditions that could affect his ability to exercise.
Adding a supplement for maintenance can help maintain a healthy gastro-intestional tract and hopefully prevent (or minimize) constipation. For example, probiotics are often given to pets on a daily basis. Many people like to add a vitamin and mineral supplement to help keep their pets healthy, since healthy pets are less likely to develop other issues.
For pets who need a little extra help, a product called Lax'aire is also popular. It's a gentle laxative and can be given to both dogs and cats.
There may be times when other measures aren't helping to resolve your dog's constipation. In such cases, your veterinarian can prescribe appropriate medications to resolve the issue as well as check your pet to ensure that there isn't a more serious underlying condition that is causing the issue.