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6 Most Common Causes of Constipation in Dogs

Why Your Dog Might Not Be Feeling "Regular"

By Lauren Leonardi. December 04, 2013 | See Comments

  • expert or vet photo
    vet verified

    Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM

    Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

    Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

beagle dog lying on hardwood floor

If your dog is straining to do their business, or not going as often as normal, it could be constipation. Find out the most common dog constipation causes here -- and what to do about it.

Most dogs get diarrhea now and then, but did you know they can get constipated, too?  Find out what can cause your dog to become a bit stopped up, and how to relieve your pup’s discomfort safely.

WHAT IS CONSTIPATION IN DOGS?

Constipation happens when your dog’s stools get too dry and hard to pass comfortably. Your dog might strain to go, or just not go at all. It’s uncomfortable and can even be dangerous.

DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT FOR CONSTIPATION IN DOGS

You can treat some forms of constipation on your own, but giving the right treatment depends on finding the cause. Trying the wrong treatment can even hurt your dog, so if there is any doubt, or if the problem persists or recurs, consult your vet. More often than not, it’s fairly simple to resolve cases of constipation in dogs.

COMMON CAUSES OF CONSTIPATION IN DOGS

1. Dehydration

Even mild dehydration can cause constipation as your dog’s body tries to recover as much moisture from the waste as possible. Sometimes a serious medical problem causes the dehydration, but more commonly either the pet parent doesn’t provide enough water or the dog stops drinking for some other reason. Older dogs especially have a problem with not wanting to drink enough. If your dog won’t drink, add more liquid to their food.

2. Intestinal Blockage

Dogs like to eat lots of things besides food, and sometimes some indigestible object will clog them up. A blockage could be partial or total and is a job for the vet. If there is a chance your dog has a blockage, consult with your vet, since blockages are treated very differently from other forms of constipation.

A common culprit are large, meaty bones -- the small chips and shards of bone are not completely digested and can often lead to a chalky, dry stool that can cause severe constipation. In older, male, intact dogs, an enlarged prostate can also cause blockages.

3. Medication

Constipation can be a side effect of certain medications. If your dog is on any meds and has trouble doing their business, talk to your vet about whether the drug could be the culprit.

4. Dietary Fiber Balance

Dogs, just like us, need fiber in their diets to have well formed bowel movements. Dog foods tend to have a source or two in them to help, and diets lower in grains and carbs, and higher in protein and moisture, actually result in somewhat firmer stool that can be slightly problematic.

Adding a bit of water to your dog’s kibble may help, and a fiber source like canned pumpkin can help soften things up. The more complex grains such as oats, peas, barley, and sorghum tend to have more fiber and can help with constipation as well. Sometimes probiotics are a great solution to gut health in your dog.

Do not give your dog fiber supplements made for humans without checking with your vet first, and do not give your dog human laxatives. Your vet can recommend products appropriate for dogs. Probiotics and a more natural diet can help prevent a recurrence.

5. The Dog Just Doesn’t Want to Go

Dogs, just like us, can hold it for a long time, but the longer feces stay in the colon, the drier and harder and more difficult to pass they become. If you leave your dog alone indoors for too long, you might return to find a constipated dog. Avoid this by making sure to adhere to a routine in which your dog has regular opportunities to go.

6. Other Medical Issues

Other medical problems, such as hypothyroidism or neurological damage can also cause constipation in dogs. It’s not as common, but it’s another reason not to ignore recurrent constipation.

HOW NOT TO HANDLE CONSTIPATION IN DOGS

Do not use laxatives, even those designed for dogs, without talking to a vet, since there are multiple kinds of laxative, each for different kinds of constipation. Using the wrong kind, or using any laxative too often, can hurt your dog. Do not give your dog enemas or suppositories made for humans, as these can be toxic for dogs. Also, be careful not to confuse constipation with colitis, a very different condition that also involves straining to defecate.

Most dogs with constipation should be seen by a vet, especially if the pooch is in pain. The only exception is if constipation is part of an ongoing problem you have already had diagnosed.

More on Dog Stomach Health

Pumpkin Recipe to Help Dog Digestive Distress
Hairballs in Dogs
Supplements and Vitamins for Pets

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

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Constipation in Dogs at a glance

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  • 1Constipation occurs when stool is too hard or dry.
  • 2Signs of constipation include straining during toileting times, or a lack of defecation entirely.
  • 3Causes can be fairly benign and simple to resolve, or it could be an indication of a more serious illness.
  • 4Common causes include dehydration, dietary deficiency, a side effect of medication, or an intestinal blockage.