As dog owners, we are highly aware of our pet's bowel movements. Not only do we know how many times per day our dog needs to poop, but if we keep them on a regular feeding schedule, we usually know when they'll poop. And while keeping track of our furry friend's feces isn't the most glamorous aspect of pet ownership, it does allow us to identify potential health problems like dog constipation.

We'll cover the signs, causes, and treatments of dog constipation, so you can more easily identify this issue. Here's what to look out for on your next walk with your best friend.

Signs of Constipation in Dogs

Dog constipation: Poodle trying to poop

When your dog poops, inspect their fecal matter. A normal bowel movement should pass easily and produce dark brown stool that is moist but not watery and is easy to pick up. You can use this chart to identify healthy stool.

Extra small, hard, or dry stool, it's a sign of dog constipation. A constipated dog may also have trouble defecating, in which case, you'll notice them repeatedly circling the same spot, squatting to poop without producing fecal matter, scooting, or whimpering and crying when they try to poop.

A healthy dog poops 1-3 times per day. If your dog poops more often, but their feces appears healthy, then there's no cause for concern. But, if they poop less often than once per day, they may be constipated. And if your dog hasn't produced any bowel movements for several days, call your vet — this can be a sign of a serious problem.

In more serious cases, your dog may experience a loss of appetite or abdominal pain that makes them whimper or growl when their stomach is touched. If you notice these signs, take your dog to the vet right away. They can be symptoms of obstipation (constipation that’s harder to treat), megacolon, or a blockage in your dog's digestive tract. These conditions can be serious if left untreated, so talk to your vet as soon as possible.

Causes of Constipation in Dogs 

Dog constipation: Beagle drinking water

The causes of dog constipation range from simple lifestyle factors to serious illnesses. The lifestyle factors are much more common causes than the more serious issues, but if your dog's constipation persists for more than a few days, have them checked by your doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM).

Not Drinking Enough Water

Simple dehydration is a common cause of constipation in dogs. Make sure your dog always has fresh water available. If you feel like they're not drinking enough, try incorporating wet food into your dog's diet or soaking their dry dog food in water or an all-natural bone broth for a few hours before mealtime.

Lack of Exercise

Exercise gets the gastrointestinal tract moving. If your dog has a sedentary lifestyle, it may result in trouble pooping. Make sure your dog gets at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. If you have an active breed like a Border Collie, Dalmatian, or Australian Shepherd, aim for closer to one to two hours a day.

Low-Fiber Diets

This probably won't surprise anyone, but what your dog eats affects their stool. If your dog's food is low in fiber, it can cause constipation for two reasons. First, high-fiber ingredients, like dog-friendly fruits, veggies, and whole grains, are natural sources of electrolytes, which help prevent dehydration.

Second, fiber is a prebiotic, meaning that it feeds the healthy bacteria living in your pet's digestive system. That bacteria helps your dog's body break down food and produce healthy stool.

If you change your dog's diet suddenly and without a transition period, this could also upset your dog's stomach and lead to constipation. However, diarrhea is a more common side effect. Whenever you switch your dog's diet or introduce a new human food, you can help keep their digestive system on track with a probiotic supplement or pumpkin for dogs.

Age

Older dogs are more prone to constipation than younger dogs. Older dogs are more likely to experience dehydration because their bodies don't use electrolytes as efficiently. Our older companions are also more likely to have health issues or be on medications that might cause constipation.

Medication Side Effects

Medications can be a vital treatment option for our furry friends, but they can also come with uncomfortable side effects. Constipation is a common one. Common medications that cause dog constipation include antihistamines, antacids, diuretics, and iron supplements.

Intestinal Blockages

An intestinal blockage or gastrointestinal obstruction is a serious and sometimes life-threatening condition. It occurs when something blocks your dog's digestive tract. Usually, the blockage comes from your pet swallowing something they shouldn't have. However, it can also come about because of infections or other illnesses.

If, in addition to constipation, your dog experiences vomiting, loss of appetite, or abdominal pain that causes them to cry during defecation or when their stomach is touched, call your vet immediately.

Hypothyroidism

If your dog has hypothyroidism, their thyroid doesn't produce enough of a hormone called thyroxine. Thyroxine is important for metabolizing food, so a lack of this hormone can lead to constipation and other symptoms that include hair loss, flaky skin, and weight gain. If you notice these symptoms, make an appointment with your DVM so your dog can get proper treatment.

Enlarged Prostate

In male dogs, an enlarged prostate can be caused by several prostatic diseases, including benign conditions, bacterial infections, cysts, and cancer. In addition to constipation, your dog might experience abdominal pain, urinary tract infections, fever, loss of appetite, loss of energy, and stiffness. If you notice these symptoms, make an appointment with your vet.

How to Treat Dog Constipation

Miniature Schnauzer with a pumpkin

Most cases of constipation are caused by simple lifestyle factors that you can address with at-home remedies. But if your dog's constipation doesn't clear up after you try these remedies, or if it's been several days since your dog has had a bowel movement, contact your vet.

Here are a few ways to treat dog constipation:

  • Pumpkin: Veterinarians often recommend this high-fiber vegetable to clear up digestive distress in dogs. You can add a scoop of canned pumpkin to your dog's food or use air-dried pumpkin for a shelf-stable option that's easy to keep on hand.
  • Probiotics: Probiotic supplements for dogs are full of helpful microbes that promote healthy digestion and healthier stool. Studies have found that probiotics can help prevent constipation in canines, so they may help your constipated dog.
  • Fresh water: Dehydration is a common cause of constipation, so make sure your dog always has plenty of fresh water.
  • Wet food: If your dog always has fresh water but still doesn't drink enough, wet food can promote hydration. If you don't have wet food on hand, you can soak dry dog food in water or bone broth for a couple hours (or soak a batch for up to a couple days) before feeding.
  • Frequent exercise: Mobility is as important for the digestive system as it is for the rest of the body. Make sure your dog gets at least 30 minutes of exercise per day to promote healthy bowel movements.
  • Veterinary treatment: If home remedies don't help your dog, talk to your vet. They can run tests to look for underlying conditions and take X-rays to identify intestinal blockages. They may also be able to prescribes laxatives, give your dog an enema, secrete your dog's anal glands, or perform a manual removal.

Help Your Furry Friend Find Relief

Girl happily carrying a dog

Most of our canine companions will experience constipation at some point in their lives. It's typically caused by simple lifestyle factors, but it can also be the result of underlying conditions or the side effects of certain medications.

If your best friend is experiencing dog constipation, try adding a probiotic supplement and air-dried pumpkin to their diet. Make sure your dog drinks plenty of fresh water and gets at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. If home remedies don't clear up your dog's constipation, talk to your vet to rule out underlying conditions.

For more information on your pet's health and wellness, take a look at the Native Pet blog.


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