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Laxatives for Dogs: Constipation Relief, Side Effects and More

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Dog owners know that poop happens. It happens on walks, in the yard and, sometimes, on the rug. But when poop doesn’t happen, it’s worrisome. Fortunately, dog constipation is not a common health problem, according to Dr. Jami-Lyn Derse, veterinarian and founder of Veterinary Housecall Care

“It’s very rare for dogs to be constipated,” Derse says. “It’s not something we see commonly in veterinary medicine.”

In fact, many owners who report constipation in their dogs are actually witnessing the straining that can accompany diarrhea and other gastrointestinal conditions. 

However, on the rare occasion when your dog stops having regular bowel movements for a few days, you might wonder if there are foods that can get things moving or laxatives for dogs that can provide relief. We asked veterinarians for more information about dog laxatives. 

Laxatives for Dogs: Do They Exist?

Yes, laxatives for dogs do exist. In addition to several prescription laxatives and stool softeners made for dogs that are designed to get things moving, there are also chews, treats and herbal tinctures that promise to ease dog constipation. 

Your veterinarian might also recommend over-the-counter laxatives made for humans to help a dog with constipation, but Derse notes that medicines to treat constipation in dogs are almost never needed.

“Things are almost never slowed down enough to need a laxative or other intervention,” she explains. “Depending on the dose and the product, your dog could end up with diarrhea and dehydration.”

Are Laxatives Safe for Dogs?

dog feeling sick

Wondering what laxatives are safe for dogs? There is no easy answer.

“While humans and dogs use similar laxatives, they are given at different doses,” says says Dr. Leilani Im, manager for the San Diego Humane Society. “So there is a danger in overdosing a dog by giving them a human laxative without discussing it with a veterinarian.”

If you suspect your dog is constipated, make an appointment with your veterinarian before heading to the drugstore. There are other conditions that can mimic constipation, and giving a laxative for these conditions can have negative consequences. Your vet can determine if your dog needs a laxative and, if so, what the proper dosage is for your dog’s size and age.

It’s also essential to make sure that your dog isn’t dehydrated before offering a laxative. The reason?

“[Laxatives] work by inhibiting water absorption in the colon which can result in dehydration,” says Dr. Im. 

Can Laxatives Help With Dog Constipation? 

Laxatives can be a good dog constipation remedy. Some laxatives, called stimulant laxatives, stimulate the movement of the bowels to ease constipation, while stool softeners reduce the firmness of stool and add water and oil-based lubrication into the mass, making it easier for the dog to pass. Dr. Im notes that both can be effective for relieving constipation and getting your dog’s bowel movements back to normal. 

Even though laxatives can help constipation in dogs, it’s important to make an appointment with your vet if your dog shows symptoms of constipation that can include:

  • Posturing without pooping
  • Whining, crying or showing other signs of discomfort while trying to poop
  • Hunched back
  • Painful abdomen
  • Loss of appetite

Your veterinarian can diagnose the problem and provide appropriate treatment, which may or may not include a laxative or stool softener.

Natural Laxatives for Dogs

Canned pumpkin for dogs on table

While over-the-counter and prescription laxatives can be used to help when a dog is constipated, there are also a variety of natural options that may assist with the symptoms of dog constipation.

Pumpkin: Offering your dog a little fiber-rich pumpkin puree can help with constipation. It’s important to choose canned pureed pumpkin not pumpkin pie filling, which could contain spices, sweeteners and other added ingredients. Dr. Im also suggests purchasing a fresh pumpkin, roasting it, and offering the cooled flesh to your dog. 

Whether you choose fresh or canned pumpkin, Dr. Im recommends one to two tablespoons added to your dog’s food once to twice per day.

Mineral oil: Dr. Derse calls this an “old school” idea but it can work. Never offer mineral oil as an oral treatment for dog constipation. Instead, the Merck Veterinary Manual recommends using mineral oil (or white petroleum) as a lubricant that can be applied around the rectum to help dogs pass stool. Ask your veterinarian for tips and advice before trying this method.

Psyllium: This soluble fiber has a laxative effect in dogs. Researchers found that dogs experiencing constipation that were given a diet supplemented with psyllium had an easier time passing stool than dogs fed a diet without the fibrous supplement. Unprocessed wheat bran and Metamucil are examples of psyllium products. 

Dr. Im recommends 1-2 tablespoons of wheat bran or 1-4 teaspoons of Metamucil mixed into a dog’s food up to 2 times per day to help with constipation.

Probiotics: Probiotics for dogs have been shown to alleviate diarrhea in dogs but there is little research about the potential laxative effects of probiotics. In certain instances, Dr. Derse believes that adding a probiotic supplement could promote beneficial gut bacteria that prevents constipation.

“Probiotics are excellent for overall gut health,” Derse says. “I frequently prescribe them to dogs with gastrointestinal upset on an as-needed basis.”

Veterinary Recommended Laxatives for Dogs

Vet giving dog laxative

There is no one-size-fits-all laxative for treating dog constipation. Your veterinarian will make a recommendation for suppositories, pills or liquid laxatives based on the specific diagnosis and treatment plan that is best for your dog’s overall health.

In the case of significant constipation, your dog may need a prescription-strength laxative. Prescription laxatives for dogs include:

  • Lactulose
  • DSS
  • Cisapride
  • Bisacodyl 

If your veterinarian prescribes one of these medications for your dog, follow the label recommendations carefully to maximize the medication’s benefits while minimizing the risk of side effects. 

Your veterinarian may also recommend a prescription diet, designed to reduce the risk of constipation. These diets are high in fiber, offering the benefits of fresh or canned pumpkin without the need to add anything to your dog’s food.

In cases of severe constipation, your veterinarian may also recommend an enema for your dog. After an enema, a laxative and/or high fiber diet can be used to maintain normal defecation. 

Laxative Side Effects for Dogs

Laxatives may help ease constipation but dogs can experience other side effects, including loose stool and dehydration, according to Dr. Im. It’s important to work with your veterinarian to treat constipation and monitor the potential side effects of laxatives.

“A veterinarian should always advise the owner on the use of these medications to ensure that the dog is getting the correct dose,” she adds.

The most important thing to remember about dog constipation is that the condition is rare and it’s best treated under the guidance of a veterinarian.

“There are different reasons why a dog can become constipated so if natural laxatives like pumpkin, wheat bran, or Metamucil do not work after a few days, it is important that you reach out to your veterinarian so they can help diagnose a reason why this happening and help treat your dog accordingly,” Im says. “Prevention is also key, so ensure that your dog always has fresh water and if they have a history of constipation they should also be fed canned diets to stay hydrated.”