Constipation is defined as the inability to defecate normally. Much like humans, older dogs are more prone to this condition, though it can happen to any breed of dog at any age. Constipation should not be ignored, as extended periods of distress can cause serious health concerns.
What To Watch For
A dog that strains to defecate, especially if it is well-trained and evacuates at regular intervals daily, is described as being constipated. (In addition, severe diarrhea and colitis may lead to straining.) Grass particles, matted feces, string, or other objects in or around the anus is also indicative of constipation. The size of the feces will be abnormally small and once the condition has progressed, lethargy, vomiting, and loss of appetite may develop.
The most common cause of constipation is swallowing objects that are not easily digested, if at all, such as a piece of dry bone. However, it can also be caused by slower intestinal processes, enlarged prostates, concurrent kidney disease, hernias, or simply swallowing grass or hair.
If you can see a thread or string in the anus, do not pull it. This can cause internal damage. Other important things to note:
- Always wear rubber gloves when dealing with feces and related anal problems.
- If you can see grass in the anus, gently ease it out.
- If feces are matted around the anus, trim carefully with scissors. (For long-haired dogs, see below.)
- Wash the anal region with warm, soapy water and apply a soothing, water-soluble jelly (such as K-Y) to the inflamed area.
- Take the dog’s temperature. If it is abnormally high or there is blood on the thermometer or resistance when inserting the thermometer, see your veterinarian immediately (within 24 hours).
Long-haired dogs, especially small ones like Yorkies and Lhasa Apsos, can become frantic with the discomfort caused by matted feces around the anus and the trimming process. You may need to soak the dog’s posterior in warm water before you begin trimming to make it more comfortable.
Radiographs, abdominal ultrasound and blood work are some of the more common tests recommended for identifying the underlying cause of the constipation.
In some cases, a dog may need to be hospitalized and given enemas to remove or pass an obstruction located in the anus. If in doubt, or in the cases noted above, call your vet and have the dog examined. Fluids under the skin may be administered to ensure good hydration to the intestinal tract. In cases of intact males where the prostate is the cause of the constipation, castration will be recommended. And in severe cases of constipation, your veterinarian may administer fluids intravenously.
Living and Management
Some dogs have a history of periodic constipation, especially as they get older. Adding a little mineral oil to the dog's meal can help in these cases. The proper dosage for a dog is 1 tsp for every 11 lbs (5kg). However, you should never administer the oil orally; if it ends up in the lungs, which can occur easily, it can cause pneumonia. Your veterinarian may also recommend stool softeners as well as fiber supplementation to assist in the intestinal transit.
Although it is natural for a dog to eat grass on occasion, this habit should be controlled as much as possible. Avoid giving your dog bones; substitute a nylon chew toy instead. Use purpose-made laxatives to soften the stool and above all else, provide your dog with water regularly. Neutering your dog at an early age will also prevent growth of the prostate, which can lead to constipation.