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Overview

Severity: i High
Life stage: All

Rectal prolapse in dogs is a painful condition that can happen to any breed of dog at any age. While the topic may be high on the “ick” factor, it’s important to understand what this condition is and how to get your dog help if they experience a prolapse. 

Learn how to recognize rectal prolapse in dogs, what to do if it happens, and steps you can take to prevent one from happening in the first place. 

What Is Rectal Prolapse in Dogs?

Rectal prolapse is the term for when a dog’s rectum protrudes out of the body through the anus. 

It can happen one time (acute rectal prolapse), intermittently, or be a chronic condition that dogs experience throughout their lives. Young dogs that have diarrhea due to intestinal parasites will strain, which can cause rectal prolapse more commonly in this group of dogs.

Rectal prolapse is classified by veterinarians in two ways:

Incomplete rectal prolapse: This is when only the innermost part of the rectum protrudes out of the anus. Incomplete rectal prolapse can occur intermittently, and appears worse when the dog is defecating or straining to defecate. 

Complete rectal prolapse: This is when the entire rectum protrudes out of the anus. Complete rectal prolapse looks like a red, irritated tube that is sticking out of a dog’s anus.  Complete rectal prolapse is a serious threat to a dog’s health, as it can prevent stool from passing. This is considered a medical emergency. 

Fortunately, most dogs respond well to treatment and recover fully from this condition.

What Causes Rectal Prolapse in Dogs?

Dog anus with tail lifted

The most common cause of rectal prolapse is straining to defecate, either from constipation or diarrhea. Dogs can also strain to defecate if they are trying to pass a foreign object, like a sock or chewed up toy. 

Other causes of rectal prolapse include:

  • Internal parasites, including hookworms, whipworms, roundworms, coccidia, and Giardia
  • Rectal diverticulum ( a herniated pouch in the rectum)
  • Proctitis (inflammation of the rectum)
  • Rectal or anal tumors, which can cause straining and/or weakened tissues
  • Urinary problems, like cystitis (bladder inflammation), urinary stones, or a blocked urethra
  • Prostate problems, like prostatic hypertrophy or prostatitis
  • Dystocia (meaning difficult birth), when mother dogs have to push very hard to get their puppies out 
  • Surgery on the anus or perineum

Symptoms of Dog Rectal Prolapse

The most obvious sign that your dog is experiencing a rectal prolapse is seeing a red tube-like mass at the opening of their anus that is not supposed to be there. The red mass is either intermittent after a dog defecates in a partial prolapse, or it is persistently present in a complete prolapse.

Your dog might try to lick or bite the mass if it is painful, or they might scoot their butt, which can cause bleeding.

A dog that is experiencing rectal prolapse is also often straining to defecate. The medical word for straining to defecate is tenesmus, and dogs that are experiencing tenesmus will posture with a hunched back like they want to defecate, but nothing comes out.

If it isn’t treated, complete rectal prolapse can go from looking like a red tube-like mass to dark blue or black, which indicates that the tissue of the rectum is dying or already dead. This is a serious threat to your dog’s health. 

How to Diagnose Rectal Prolapse in Dogs

Dog getting rectal exam

To diagnose a rectal prolapse, a veterinarian will conduct a full physical examination of your dog, including a rectal exam. During a rectal exam, a vet will insert a gloved finger into the anus to palpate, or feel the structures and determine the exact problem. Rectal examination can rule out other issues, like stuck foreign bodies, impacted anal glands, or tumors. 

Most times, a rectal prolapse is caused by another underlying medical condition. Resolving rectal prolapse requires also figuring out what that underlying condition is. This may require additional testing. 

Additional tests that may be ordered include a fecal (poop) exam to look for parasites, blood and urine testing, or imaging with radiographs (X-ray) or abdominal ultrasound. If a dog is repeatedly having problems with rectal prolapse, a colonoscopy may be recommended. 

Treatment for Rectal Prolapse in Dogs

Mild, incomplete rectal prolapse may resolve on its own if the underlying cause has stopped.

If your dog is experiencing an incomplete or intermittent rectal prolapse with periods where the anus looks normal, you still need to get to a veterinarian as soon as possible to prevent the problem from getting worse.

Complete rectal prolapse is considered an emergency and requires immediate veterinary care to prevent further damage to rectal tissues. 

If your dog is experiencing a persistent rectal prolapse, apply petroleum jelly, saline, water, or water-based lube to the mass, and gently cover it with a moist cloth. This will protect the rectal tissue from drying out before your veterinarian can treat it.

To correct a rectal prolapse, your veterinarian will gently replace protruding rectal tissue through the anus with the use of lubricants and gentle massage. Your dog will (in most cases) be sedated, anesthetized, or receive an epidural for this procedure because it is not comfortable. If there is severe swelling of rectal tissue, then medication is often applied to the tissue before it is replaced.

Once the rectal prolapse is corrected, a veterinarian will usually put sutures in the anus to keep it from prolapsing again. These sutures are tight enough to prevent prolapse, but loose enough to allow stool to pass. Sutures are generally removed 3-7 days later.

Dogs will usually be discharged on pain medication and stool softeners to decrease straining. A low residue dog food, which means that it creates less stool, may also be prescribed. 

If the rectal tissue is damaged beyond repair, a veterinarian will surgically remove the tissue and connect the anus to healthy rectal tissue. 

In rare cases, if a dog has recurrent problems with rectal prolapse or straining that doesn’t respond to treatment, colopexy may be recommended. Colopexy is a surgical procedure where the large intestine is attached to the abdominal wall.

If your dog has surgery, it is very important to follow your aftercare instructions from your veterinarian carefully. If your dog doesn’t heal correctly, complications can occur, such as the surgical site opening up, narrowing of the rectum, or fecal incontinence.

Other than correcting the prolapse, the most important part of treating rectal prolapse is to identify and resolve the underlying cause. Treatment of the underlying cause depends on what it is. Parasites are treated with a dewormer, colitis is treated with a bland diet, probiotics and medication, etc.

General cost for treatment of rectal prolapse depends on the severity, whether surgery is required, and what the underlying cause is. Minor cases that are caused by intestinal parasites can cost a few hundred dollars to correct. However, major surgery for rectal prolapse can cost several thousand dollars.

How to Prevent Rectal Prolapse in Dogs

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to reduce your dog’s risk of a rectal prolapse:

Treat straining and diarrhea quickly. If you notice your dog straining to defecate or having diarrhea, see a veterinarian as soon as possible to resolve the problem.

Feed a healthy diet. Feed your dog a complete and balanced dog food, and reduce or completely eliminate treats that could cause diarrhea.

Keep up on wellness exams. Have your dog examined by a veterinarian every year, including a rectal exam.

Prevent intestinal parasites. Keep your dog free of intestinal parasites by using a monthly preventative from your veterinarian

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