What to Give a Constipated Dog (Signs, Causes and Treatment)

Filed in Dog Health on June 5, 2021

What to Give a Constipated Dog
I see a lot of pooping dogs each day. Between visits to the dog park, walks on city streets, and hikes in the woods, they are everywhere.

So I take notice when the opposite happens – a dog can’t poop. A constipated dog is a sad sight, with repeated squatting, straining, and staring under their tails. Keep reading to learn how to help your dog poop like a pro.

In this article, I’ll discuss the signs and causes of dog constipation, information to tell your vet, what to give a constipated dog at home, and how vets diagnose and treat constipation problems.

Signs That Your Dog Is Constipated

Dog trying to poop in a backyard

Dog straining to poop from constipation

I’ll never forget the time my dog chewed and swallowed an orange rubber sting ray toy. For two days, he’d spin around wildly, sticking his nose under his tail, and repeatedly squatting to no avail.

Eventually, strips of orange rubber appeared, and with a bag over my hand, I gently tugged. Along with the rubber bits came dry, hard bits of stool with blood and mucus. My frantic dog was grateful to finally have some relief!

Your dog may become constipated for a long list of reasons, but they can look similar.

Here’s a checklist for what to look for if you are leaving the park with an empty bag:

  • Frequent squatting (Don’t confuse this with urinary problems.)
  • Straining
  • Crying out while straining
  • Looking or sniffing frequently under the tail
  • Full or painful belly
  • Decreased appetite and/or vomiting
  • Tiny bits of hard dry stool, mucous, brown liquid, or blood
  • Failure to produce poop after two to three days

Causes of Dog Constipation

Constipation can affect any age or breed of dog. Some causes are unique to older males, such as prostate enlargement.

Others are more common in certain breeds, like painful perianal fistulas in German shepherds. Puppies or other chewers are more likely to chew and swallow toys, bedding, or bones. Overall any dog can have trouble defecating.

Here are causes of constipation, some more common than others:

  • Diet too low or too high in fiber
  • Lack of exercise
  • Eating something that blocks stool passage (bones, hair, rawhide, cat litter, mulch, gravel, birdseed, rocks, toys)
  • Dehydration
  • Holding in stool for long periods (due to painful defecation, anxious behavior, no opportunity)
  • Anatomic obstructions (enlarged prostate, pelvic/rectal/colonic tumor, old pelvis fracture, anal gland infection or tumor, strictures)
  • Medication (opioids for pain or as part of anesthesia)
  • Metabolic disease (hypothyroidism, kidney disease)
  • Painful defecation (perianal fistulas, anal gland tumors or infections, rectal tumors, sharp or hard material in stool)
  • Orthopedic or neurologic disease making squatting difficult or painful
  • Behavior (anxiety, fear)
  • Neurologic disease of the colon or rectum, including spinal injury
  • Chronic constipation and stretching of the colon and rectum (obstipation)
  • Megacolon (due to obstipation, enlarged flaccid colon with poor smooth muscle action)

What Should I Tell My Vet?

Dog in a veterinary clinic

Who knew there were so many reasons your dog can have trouble going number two?

Before you call your veterinarian, I suggest taking a few moments to review your dog’s personal situation. No need to worry about the prostate disease in your female puppy! But where is that squeaky toy…

If someone else in your family walks your dog, ask them when they last saw normal stool, and a normal effort to produce the stool. Get your ducks in a row before you make the call.

Here’s what I want to know about your constipated dog when you call:

  • Breed, age, relevant medical history (Recent sedation or surgery? Hip dysplasia?)
  • Duration of signs (acute, chronic, or intermittent)
  • Behavior when trying to poop
  • Do you see anything coming out the rear?
  • Appetite
  • Recent or past trauma
  • Diet or recent dietary changes
  • People food
  • Eating inappropriate things – toys, hard treats, cat litter, mulch
  • Consistent water access?
  • Recent stressful event (a move, new cat, car trip)
  • How’s he doing otherwise? (lethargic, poor appetite or thirst, painful, vomiting, trying to vomit)

What to Give a Constipated Dog at Home

In most cases where your otherwise healthy dog has had a recent diet change or has been holding his poop a while (long car ride, long day at work), you won’t need to take him to the vet after one unproductive visit to the park.

The colon’s job is to absorb water and electrolytes, while the rectum serves as temporary storage. Mucus production helps for easier passage.

The longer stool is held inside, the more water gets absorbed, resulting in dry, hard stool that is difficult or painful to pass.

So if your pooch doesn’t want to go out in the rain or snowstorm, or your mid-day dog walker is a no-show, your dog may hold his poop long enough to become constipated.

Luckily, there are some tricks to try at home. Any dog who has trouble producing stool for more than 24-48 hours, or seems painful, lethargic, or distressed, should see a veterinarian.

If you know your pooch has eaten something inappropriate like bones or birdseed, or he is vomiting or trying to vomit, see a veterinarian right away because this could be a life-threatening emergency.

Home remedies* to try in mild cases:

  • Water – encourage your dog to drink plenty
  • Canned food (because it has water!)
  • Laxatone (white petrolatum, light mineral oil) – give as directed, especially for excessive hair ingestion
  • Psyllium (Metamucil): 1 to 4 teaspoons mixed in wet food every 12 to 24 hours
  • Wheat bran: 1 to 2 Tablespoons mixed with wet food every 12 to 24 hours
  • Canned pumpkin: 1 to 5 Tablespoons in food
  • Benefiber (soluble fiber/inulin): dose varies, try 1 teaspoon mixed in food per day. This doesn’t add bulk so it may be a good long-term choice for the narrowed pelvis (old pelvic fractures) or colonic disease.

For more chronic or intermittent management:

Osmotic laxatives (by mouth) – Ask your vet first and never give when there’s an obstruction!

  • Lactulose: 0.25 to 0.5 ml per kg of body weight every 8 to 12 hours
  • Miralax (polyethylene glycol): for a small dog start with 1/3 teaspoon sprinkled on food twice daily, increase the dose up to 2 teaspoons per day as needed.

I want to mention that you should never give liquid mineral oil by mouth to dogs, as it can cause severe lung problems if your dog vomits and aspirates. Also steer clear of stool softeners like DSS (docusate sodium) and stimulant laxatives like bisocodyl, as these can have severe side effects in some dogs. Your vet may prescribe these in special circumstances.

*Note that these products are not all FDA-approved for animals, may cause side effects, and safety has not been determined. Always ask your own veterinarian before giving your dog medication.

Never give your dog anything containing xylitol, a sweetener that is highly toxic to dogs. Always call your vet before giving a home remedy to see if it is safe for your dog.

Hopefully, your dog is now pooping like a champ! In cases where he or she has had an isolated episode of constipation without any major underlying medical issue, a dietary change can promote power-pooping.

A diet containing insoluble fiber adds bulks to the stool, stimulating defecation. If your dog has normal colon function and no strictures or other anatomic blockages, a diet high in insoluble fiber may be a good choice.

Here are some examples:

  • Royal Canin GI Fiber Response (contains psyllium)
  • Hill’s r/d Weight Reduction or w/d Multi-Benefit

These may promote weight loss by helping your dog feel full, so monitor weight for thin or normal weight pups.

If your dog has chronic difficulties pooping due to skeletal, neurologic, or chronic colon problems, a diet that produces less stool may be more appropriate.

These are low residue diets, containing soluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves, so it adds moisture to help stool pass without increasing bulk. Eukanuba and Hill’s are some brands that make a low residue diet.

There are so many excellent, and not-so-good, dog foods available these days. I suggest you seek your own veterinarian’s advice before choosing a diet. Some of these are prescription diets so you’ll need to call your vet to purchase them.

Diagnosing and Handling More Serious Pooping Problems

Vet showing a dog x-ray film to the pet owner

If your vet advised you to come for an appointment, or you’ve tried home remedies for a day or two and your dog is still struggling to poop, read on.

If your dog’s sick, in pain, vomiting, or trying to vomit but can’t, you may need to go to an emergency vet clinic if your vet is not available that day.

Your veterinarian will start by taking a history, and here’s where coming prepared can streamline the process to help get your dog the care he needs.

If your dog never eats anything but the same high-quality food, your vet will approach his or her problem differently than if your puppy got into some chicken bones.

I once had a young Labrador retriever present to me for constipation. The owner said he’d been straining to poop but nothing came out.

I performed a rectal exam and removed a short stick that had become lodged just inside.

How the stick made its way through the entire body without getting stuck is one of life’s great mysteries, but we performed further tests to make sure there weren’t others stuck up higher in his intestinal tract. I’ll never forget the look of gratitude in that dog’s eyes!

After the history, your vet will perform a physical exam, including a rectal exam. Most cases aren’t as obvious as a stuck stick.

They will assess your dog’s overall health, checking for dehydration, belly pain, masses or excessive stool in the colon, arthritis, and neurologic problems.

A rectal exam helps assess the anal glands, prostate gland in males, perianal health (fistulas, strictures, tumors), and presence of hard stool or foreign material.

I generally take x-rays to look for spine or pelvis problems, abdominal masses or impacted stool, prostate size and shape, or foreign objects such as rocks or pieces of toys.

Bloodwork may be necessary to rule out infections, cancers, or metabolic diseases.

All of these above steps may be necessary for a vet to determine how to treat or what to give a constipated dog.

How Can My Vet Treat My Constipated Dog?

That depends entirely on what your vet determines to be the cause.

In mild cases, they may remove hard rectal stool, rehydrate your dog, and send you home with a prescription diet and some lactulose to give for a few days. They may give your dog an enema with water and mineral oil and wait for him to poop.

In more difficult cases, your dog might need to be anesthetized for an enema and manual stool removal. The colonic lining can be irritated or damaged by very hard stool, so this would not be tolerated by an awake dog.

Bowel obstruction with foreign material such as a toy, cloth, or rocks usually requires emergency surgery. If your vet finds abdominal, pelvic, anal gland, or rectal masses, they will advise you on further workup.

Chronic constipation, obstipation, and megacolon may require pro-kinetic medication to stimulate peristalsis after the stool has been removed.

An enlarged prostate can be addressed by neutering. Orthopedic pain making squatting difficult can be managed with joint supplements and pain medication. Acupuncture even may help in some cases.

Your furry best friend may have a couple of rough days in the pooping department or have chronic problems due to pelvic injuries.

Either way, your veterinarian can walk you through your options. As a team, you and your vet can choose the best plan to help your dog be a super pooper.

Conclusion on What to Give a Constipated Dog

Well, I hope I have given you enough information to determine your next steps to treat your constipated dog whether through at-home treatments or seeing a vet for more serious issues.

What to give a constipated dog, if anything, will depend on your dog’s specific situation and causes of the constipation.

I hope your dog is feeling better as soon as possible.

About the Author

Dr. Jacqueline Dobranski, DVM is a contributing writer to Dog Endorsed. She received her D.V.M. from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1997, and her B.S. from Cornell in 1992. She earned a Graduate Certificate in Shelter Animal Medicine in 2015. Dr. Dobranski currently practices small animal medicine in the Washington DC area.

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