If your dog is suffering from constipation, hard stool and has no or very restricted bowel movements. Does your dog squat and squeeze, but often without result. If the constipation lasts for a longer period, feces will accumulate in the intestines. This is not only painful but also dangerous. Here is what you can do to prevent and remedy your dog’s constipation.
What is a normal digestion?
The intestines of a healthy dog absorb nutrients and water from food. The food moves through the intestine in what we call a “peristaltic movement”. This means that the muscles of the intestine contract to push the food through the intestine. This movement starts in the oesophagus and ends about a day later when the stool leaves the body.
Why do dogs with constipation have hard stools?
Hard stools are caused by constipation. If the digestion process slows down, food will remain in the intestine longer . As a result, the intestinal wall will continue to absorb moisture from the food for longer. The result is that the stool becomes harder and drier, and therefore even more difficult to evacuate. This then becomes a vicious circle.
What are the symptoms of constipation in dogs?
- The dog passes stool less than once a day
- The amount of stool is smaller than normal
- Defecation is painful or difficult
- Hard and dry stools
- Abdominal pain
- Reduced appetite
Is constipation dangerous to dogs?
If constipation persists for a long time, stools will accumulate in the digestive system. This is not only painful but also dangerous. Because if the body cannot eliminate waste products the normal way, the intestines will try to evacuate them through the blood. In this way, toxins enter the bloodstream and your dog can get blood poisoning .
What causes constipation in dogs?
There can be several reasons as to why your dog has difficulties in relieving itself. Here are some of them:
Not enough fibre
Constipation is usually caused by a lack of fibre in your dog’s diet: fibre acts as a kind of mini sponge in the intestines, absorbing moisture. They ensure that the stool remains soft, so that the intestines can transport it properly.
The solution? Switch to a more fibre-rich feed or add a fibre supplement.
Too much calcium
Calcium is healthy for your dog, but if it consumes more calcium than its body can absorb, the surplus must be removed. Stool containing a lot of calcium is hard and white and can block your dog’s intestines, causing constipation.
Chicken cartilage or a pork shank contains an enormous amount of calcium. It is best not to give your dog too many of these snacks to ensure that your dog’s stool remains soft.
Tip: Does your dog love to chew and do you not want to take away its favourite past-time? Then let it chew deer antlers. Deer antlers also contain calcium, but the particles are released much more slowly preventing your dog from getting too much calcium.
Too little exercise
Exercise stimulates bowel movement. If your dog does not exercise enough, its intestines move around less too. As a result, stool remains in the colon longer. The intestinal wall absorbs moisture from the stool, making it increasingly dry, harder and more difficult to transport. This can lead to constipation.
Not drinking enough water
Moist, soft stools glide easily through your dog’s intestines. But dogs that do not drink enough water will have hard stools that are harder to move around: the ideal conditions for constipation.
Tip: Give your dog wet food such as tinned food or fresh meals instead of kibble. Because this food contains more water and your dog stays better hydrated.
Older dogs are more likely to suffer from constipation. Over the years, the intestine is stretched. The muscles weaken and the storage capacity increases which means that the stool remains in the intestine longer. There, it gets drier and harder.
Other age-related factors that contribute to this are:
- Medication against old age ailments (such as rheumatism)
- Less physical activity due to fatigue or joint pain
- Not drinking enough due to reduced thirst
The use of certain medication
Medications sometimes have unwanted side effects, such as constipation. Medicines known to cause constipation include:
- Antihistamines (for allergies and stomach complaints)
- Opiates (strong pain killers)
- Diuretics (diuretics, against swelling, shortness of breath, high blood pressure and heart failure)
- Certain antacids
- Some cancer medicines
Is your dog experiencing any side effects from its medication or do you want to phase out its medication? Please seek advice from your vet first.
Clogged anal glands
Dogs that suffer from frequent constipation also often have problems with their anal glands. Normally, the anal glands are emptied automatically during defecation, but if your dog does not defecate (enough), its anal glands may overflow.
Symptoms of an overflowing anal gland include:
- Lump on the anus
- Scratching and biting under the tail
- ‘sledging’ means dragging its rear end along the ground.
You can relieve clogged anal glands yourself but if you have a sensitive stomach, it is better to leave it to your vet.
An enlarged prostate often leads to urinary problems such as frequent urination and pain during urination. The prostate sometimes becomes so large that it also presses against the large intestine. This leads to flattened stools and constipation.
Metabolism or thyroid problems
The metabolism converts nutrients into building blocks and waste products. When your dog’s metabolism slows down, for example due to a slow-working thyroid gland, the whole digestive system slows down. Stool stays in the intestines longer, dries out and increases the risk of constipation.
A perineal hernia weakens or tears the muscles around your dog’s anus. A sort of pouch forms next to the anus, in which part of the large intestine can be found. As a result, the stool has to take an extra turn to leave the body. If this does not work, we call that constipation.
When your dog’s spinal cord is damaged by accident or deterioration, such as in degenerative myelopathy, signals from its brain can no longer reach its intestines. That is what we call failure. The intestines will continue to absorb nutrients, but there will be less muscle activity, which will slow down the movement of stool through the digestive system. For dogs that do not relieve themselves spontaneously, there are suppositories that get the bowel movement going.
Stress and other psychological problems
In a stress situation, your dog’s body is in the highest state of readiness. More blood flows to its heart, its brain and its muscles. Its heart beats faster, adrenaline is released and its reaction speed skyrockets. The downside is that less blood flows to its intestines. In time, they will slow down and your dog may experience stomach pain, bloating and constipation.
Joint problems such as rheumatism can cause your dog to feel pain when squatting. As a result, it will try to postpone emptying its bowels as long as possible and its stool becomes hard and it becomes constipated.
A recent operation
A recent operation may also cause your dog pain or difficulty in adopting certain positions. If your dog avoids relieving itself or whines when doing so, it is best to talk to your vet know as soon as possible. It may indicate complications such as a wound infection or scar fracture.
A tumour in the digestive system
Tumours that press against your dog’s throat, stomach or intestines can form blockages that hinder the transport of nutrients and waste products through the digestive system.
Moreover, a tumour can also cause a lot of pain. To avoid this pain, a dog with a tumour near the anus, for example, may try to delay defecation as long as possible. This causes the stool to remain in the intestines longer, and it becomes harder and harder to eliminate.
What can you do if your dog suffers from constipation?
- Give your dog a moisture-rich diet. Industrial kibble is often dry and makes the blockage worse. Fresh food contains more moisture. This makes the stool softer and it is excreted more quickly.
- Some oils, such as olive oil, help to prevent and relieve constipation. By adding oil to your dog’s diet, food gets through the digestive system more easily.
- Figs and plums are also natural laxatives. This is because they contain a lot of fibre. Remember always to remove the stone from the plum as it is poisonous. Also don’t give your dog too much of it as that can cause diarrhoea. Two plums a day is enough for a 20-kg dog.
- You can also give your dog pieces of cooked pumpkin. Pumpkin is rich in fibre and moisture, making it an excellent aid against constipation and diarrhoea.
- Psyllium, a natural substance derived from fleawort seeds, makes your dog’s stool harder or softer, depending on the condition When your dog has hard stools, psyllium fibre absorbs water, making the stool softer and making it easier for your dog to defecate. If your dog has diarrhoea, the same fibre actually makes the stool firmer by absorbing excess moisture.
- Make sure your dog always has access to clean drinking water. Sufficient fluid intake is essential for a smooth bowel movement.
- Go for walks. Movement stimulates digestion.
When should you call the vet?
The tips above will help to relieve constipation in dogs. If the problem persists or if your dog does not produce stool for two or more days, it is best to make an appointment with the vet.
Please have the following information ready when you come for your appointment:
- When did the problem start?
- What does the bowel movement look like?
- Does it take your dog a lot of effort to relieve itself? Do you think your dog is in pain?
- Have there been any changes in your dog’s life? For example, a change of diet, new walking route or moving house?
- Does your dog take medication? If so, which one?
- Does your dog have any other health problems?
- Is your dog vomiting, listless or having other symptoms?
The veterinarian can use an X-ray see the stool and make the correct diagnosis. Additional examinations, such as blood tests or neurological screening, may also reveal the cause of the obstruction.
How can the right food prevent constipation?
By cooking fresh ingredients slowly, the natural moisture content and fibres are optimally preserved. This stimulates your dog’s intestines and keeps its stool soft. That is ideal for a smooth and effortless bowel movement.