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Dog Constipation: Causes and How to Help

Constipated dog lying on couch
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Severity: i Low - Medium
Life stage: All
  • Constipation in dogs is the inability to defecate.
  • Pet parents often confuse constipation with diarrhea, which also causes dogs to strain.
  • Dehydration, obstruction, or arthritis can all cause constipation in dogs.
  • Veterinary treatments may require IV fluids, medications, or surgery for obstructions or severe cases.
  • At-home remedies for mild cases include high-fiber foods, plenty of water, and exercise.

Even if we don’t want to admit it, most of us have had our own unpleasant experiences with constipation. You know—when you have to go, but you just can’t.

And our dogs can experience this same symptom for a variety of reasons, but dog constipation is actually quite rare (it is much more common in cats). 

To learn more about the causes of constipation in dogs, its symptoms, and what to do if your pup is having trouble defecating, just keep on reading. 

What is Dog Constipation?

Constipation is when dogs have difficulty defecating or are not defecating enough. If left untreated, it can become very uncomfortable and even require veterinary intervention 

But many pet parents often confuse a dog who is straining to defecate with a dog who is constipated. More often, the dog is straining associated with diarrhea. Dogs with diarrhea can still feel the urge to defecate but there is nothing left to poop out. 

Because of this confusion, it’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian before trying home remedies for suspected dog constipation.

Why Won’t My Dog Poop?

Dog lying in grass

Before you get worried about your dog not defecating, consider environmental reasons he won’t go. Sometimes dogs won’t defecate because they are stressed or in an unfamiliar situation. Once they are more comfortable, this may resolve without issue. 

Weather also plays a factor and dogs may not want to poop in the rain or walk through the wet grass to eliminate.

Another reason a dog may not defecate that is not related to constipation is that he isn’t eating. If no food is going in, there is nothing to stimulate the intestines to push out the remnants of whatever he last ate. Once your dog starts to eat again, his bowel movements will return to normal. However, if your dog shows no interest in eating for more than 24 hours, you should consult your veterinarian.

Signs of Constipation in Dogs

Dog constipation can easily be confused with diarrhea or a urinary tract infection because they can all lead to straining and discomfort. This is why it is important to have a complete exam by a veterinarian before starting any at home remedies for your dog. 

True signs of constipation in dogs may include:

  • Posturing to defecate with nothing coming out
  • Frequent posturing to defecate
  • Crying out when posturing to defecate
  • Hunched back
  • Painful abdomen
  • Not wanting to eat

If your dog has gone more than two days without defecating, he is likely constipated. 

What Causes Dog Constipation?

Dog at the veterinarian being examined

Constipation can be caused by several different factors including dehydration, obstructed bowels, nerve damage, and even arthritis. Though this last cause sounds strange, dogs with painful backs, hips, or knees may not want to posture to defecate which can lead to constipation.

Dehydration is the most likely cause of a dog’s constipation. An important job of the large intestines (the colon) is to absorb water from stool before it leaves the body. If your dog is not drinking enough water or has lost water through activity, the stool can get very hard. Hard, dry stool is difficult and even painful to pass. Encouraging a dog to drink water can help mild cases but severe cases require veterinary attention. 

Dogs aren’t particular about what they eat and often ingest pieces of toys, food wrappers, and whatever they find in the yard. These things can get stuck in the intestines, causing an obstruction. An obstruction means that nothing can pass and obstructions can cause all of the intestines to stop their normal motion that stimulates defecation. Intestinal obstructions often cause foul-smelling diarrhea, vomiting, lack of appetite, and a very sick dog. Obstructions are a medical emergency and require immediate veterinary care.  

Rarely, a dog will develop nerve damage and be unable to feel the urge to defecate or be unable to push feces out. This results in severe constipation and requires close monitoring by a veterinarian. More typically, nerve damage to the back causes fecal incontinence (involuntary expulsion of feces) as it prevents the anus from constricting and keeping feces inside the body. 

Diagnosing Constipation in Dogs

Sometimes constipation can be diagnosed with only a thorough physical examination but often X-rays are required to assess the extent of the problem. X-rays allow your veterinarian to see how much stool is backing up in the colon. 

Your veterinarian may also recommend bloodwork to better understand the cause of the constipation. Bloodwork will assess organ function including the kidney and liver, both important in digestion, and also quantify how dehydrated your dog is. 

How to Help a Constipated Dog

Woman looking at sick dog

Mild to moderate cases of constipation can be treated at the veterinary clinic by administering subcutaneous fluids (fluids under the skin) and recommending a change in diet until the constipation resolves. Diets recommended for constipation can either have high or low levels of fiber depending on the cause of constipation and any underlying diseases your dog has. This is usually inexpensive, ranging from $100 to $500.

Moderate to severe cases of constipation will require more extensive care including enemas and even deobstipation (the manual removal of feces under anesthesia). Dogs who experience this level of constipation are likely to need a specific diet for the rest of their lives to prevent recurrence. Cost for this level of care is in the $500-$1,000 range.

Constipation due to intestinal obstruction requires surgery and can cost between $1,500 and $5,000. A veterinarian must surgically remove the object and any intestines damaged by the object. Recovery from surgery can take several days to weeks. 

Your veterinarian also has several types of medications available to treat chronic or occasional diarrhea or may recommend over-the-counter products. If your dog is constipated due to joint pain, talk to your veterinarian about the right pain medications and supplements to help your dog be more comfortable.

At Home Treatments for Dog Constipation

If your dog is experiencing a mild case of constipation and you are sure it is neither diarrhea nor due to a possible intestinal obstruction, there are several ways to relieve dog constipation at home including:

Encouraging your dog to drink. The first at-home remedy for dog constipation is to encourage canine water consumption. Some dogs drink more if there are ice cubes in their water while others will drink a whole bowl of water if a couple of drops of low-salt chicken broth are added. 

Give your dog high fiber foods. High fiber foods help keep stool soft and can make it easier for your dog to defecate. Plain, canned pumpkin is often recommended as a meal topper since it is mostly fiber and water but is sweet enough that your dog will readily eat it. However, too much pumpkin can actually cause diarrhea, so limit the serving to a couple teaspoons.

Make your dog move. Regular exercise may be all that is needed for constipation relief. Easy to moderate exercise helps the intestines do their job and can stimulate your dog to poop. A long walk around the block 2-3 times a day can help avoid constipation in dogs.

Never use a stimulant laxative for your dog. Adding oil to your dog’s diet can cause severe diarrhea and is not recommended without consulting your veterinarian. Milk is also not a safe home remedy for dog constipation as it causes severe stomach upset along with diarrhea. 

Preventing Constipation in Dogs

dog playing with ball outside

Making sure your dog drinks plenty of water, eats appropriate dog food, and gets regular exercise can prevent most cases of constipation. If your dog is prone to eating whatever he finds, make sure anything he can swallow is picked up and lids are securely fastened to the garbage.

If you’re concerned about your dog’s gut health, ask your veterinarian about probiotics or other supplements that may aid or prevent constipation in your canine companion.