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What Is Rectal and Anal Prolapse in Dogs?

Rectal prolapse in dogs is a condition in which rectal tissue protrudes through the anus. It’s usually caused when your dog repeatedly strains while pooping or peeing. There are two types of prolapse: 

  • Partial Prolapse: Only a small portion of the anal and/or rectal tissue is visible as it protrudes through the anus. This small portion may only be visible while your dog is straining, then spontaneously returns to its normal position inside the rectum.

  • Complete Prolapse: All the anal tissue and some of the rectal tissue and lining protrude from the anus, even when your dog is not straining. This tissue does not return spontaneously to its normal position.

Prolapsed tissue will often appear bright red in color, and it may look like a swollen tube because it’s filled with fluid. If prolapse is not treated, over time it may develop into a complete prolapse, and the tissue may dry out and turn a dark color—usually blue or black. This means the blood supply to the tissue is obstructed and the tissue itself may be dying. 
 

Symptoms of Rectal and Anal Prolapse in Dogs

Dogs with rectal prolapse typically hunch over while straining to poop or pee. While they’re straining, you may see a tube-shaped mass of tissue protruding through the anal opening.  

In a partial anal prolapse, the exposed tissue may go back to its normal position after your dog stops straining. In a complete anal prolapse, tissue will usually not go back to its normal position without medical or surgical intervention.  

Causes of Rectal and Anal Prolapse in Dogs

The most common causes of rectal and anal prolapse in dogs include: 

Other causes may include: 

  • Straining to pee because of a urethral obstruction (the urethra is the tube that carries urine) or enlarged prostate gland 

  • Obstruction of the bowel because of something unusual your dog ate or the presence of a foreign object

  • Straining in pregnant females with dystocia (difficult birth) 

  • Birth defects in your dog’s anatomy

  • Rectal polyps (clumps of cells)

  • Tumors in the rectum or anus

How Vets Diagnose Rectal and Anal Prolapse in Dogs

A complete physical examination, including manually feeling the rectum, is key to diagnosing rectal or anal prolapse in dogs.  

In a severe complete prolapse, tissue may be visibly protruding through the anus in an elongated tube. These tissues may be swollen or discolored depending on the length of time of exposure. 

X-rays and/or ultrasound of your dog’s abdomen are both important diagnostic tools. These tools allow your vet to identify the following: 

  • Obstruction or a mass in the bowel

  • Kidney or urethral stones 

  • Thickening of the bladder wall 

  • Enlargement of the prostate in male dogs 

  • Retained fetuses in female dogs that have recently given birth

A fecal examination should be completed to check for parasites. Bloodwork is often valuable in identifying an elevation in your dog’s white blood cell count, which can signal inflammation or widespread infection.

Treatment of Rectal and Anal Prolapse in Dogs

The main goal of treatment is to restore the protruding rectal and anal tissue to its normal position. This will reduce damage or the risk of tissue death.  

General anesthesia is often required to replace the prolapsed tissue. After your dog is under anesthesia, the vet will gently massage the exposed tissue with lubricant gels or a topical application of 50% dextrose solution to shrink swelling. This will help reduce the prolapsed tissue back to its normal anatomic position through the anus.

Once the prolapse has been reduced and is back in place, a purse-string suture should be placed around the anal opening for 5-7 days to prevent a recurrence of the prolapse. A purse-string suture is a special type of stitch that will help preserve the anal opening and reduce the risk of the prolapse recurring.  

Severe Rectal Prolapse

In cases of severe prolapse, dead or dying rectal tissue may need to be surgically removed. Your vet will use resection (cutting out the tissue) and anastomosis (reconnecting the ends of the rectum where the dead tissue was cut away). 

This surgery is designed to remove dead tissue, reduce the risk of further damage to the tissue, and reduce the risk of a serious inflammatory reaction called sepsis.

Treating Underlying Causes

Some underlying causes of rectal prolapse in dogs will also need to be addressed at the same time as the prolapse:

  • Bowel obstruction: If the prolapse has occurred because of a foreign body obstruction in the bowel, it should be addressed at the same time as the prolapse. This will avoid additional tissue damage to other sections of the bowel.

  • Urethral obstruction: Urethral obstructions should also be addressed while your dog is anesthetized, to avoid continued straining and prevent damage or rupture to the urinary bladder and urethra.

  • Dystocia (difficult birth): Pregnant females with a puppy they cannot push out will also require surgical intervention to safely remove the puppy via cesarean section. Prolonged straining with dystocia (difficult birth) can lead to maternal exhaustion, potential rupture of the uterus, and possible death of the puppy.

  • Enlarged prostate: Intact (not neutered) male dogs who suffer from rectal prolapse should be evaluated for an enlarged prostate, which can cause straining as the prostate partially obstructs the flow of urine through the urethra.

Recovery and Management of Rectal and Anal Prolapse in Dogs

After the prolapse has been resolved, additional treatment should address the underlying cause(s) of the prolapse.  

If your dog is intact and suffers from an enlarged prostate, they may benefit from castration (neutering), which will result in a gradual decline in male hormone levels, leading to a decrease in the size of the prostate gland.

If a fecal examination is positive for parasites, your dog should be dewormed and placed on a monthly oral or topical heartworm and intestinal parasite prevention to reduce the likelihood of reinfection.  

Stool softeners and a low-residue diet may also be recommended in the post-surgical period so your dog can pass bowel movements more easily.  

In cases of recurrent rectal prolapse, long-term management of the condition may require that your dog undergoes a colopexy. This is a type of surgery in which the vet attaches your dog’s colon to the left side of the abdominal wall so it cannot come out of the anus.  
 

Rectal Prolapse in Dogs FAQs

What does rectal prolapse look like in a dog?

Rectal prolapse in dogs occurs when part of the rectal or anal tissue protrudes from the anal opening. A partial prolapse may look like a doughnut-shaped ring of prolapsed tissue, while a complete prolapse will be look like a solid, tubular structure protruding from your dog’s anus. 

Depending on the severity of the prolapse and how long it’s been prolapsed, the rectal tissue may be swollen with fluid (e.g., edematous) and red, or it may turn blue/black as the tissue begins to die.

Can a rectal prolapse heal itself in dogs?

Mild, incomplete prolapse of anal tissue may resolve itself after the underlying cause for straining has stopped. A complete prolapse of rectal and anal tissue will usually require medical and/or surgical intervention.

How do you fix a rectal prolapse?

Treatment of a rectal prolapse typically involves anesthetizing your dog to manually replace the prolapsed tissue through the anus and restore it to its normal position within the pelvis.

The exposed tissue must be cleaned and handled gently, lubricant gel or a rinse of 50% dextrose solution is often required to shrink the tissue and replace the prolapse.

After the prolapse has been replaced, a purse-string suture is placed around the anal opening. The placement of the suture will allow poop to pass during a bowel movement but prevent rectal tissue from being pushed out again.
 

What is the difference between rectal prolapse and hemorrhoids in dogs?

Rectal prolapse is the protrusion (pushing out) of the rectal and anal lining and tissues through the anus.  

Hemorrhoids are swollen blood vessels in the rectum or anal area. Dogs do not suffer from hemorrhoids because their gastrointestinal system is situated horizontally in the abdomen. 

As a result, they do not have the added downward pressure of body and organ weight pushing on the blood vessels of the rectum and anus, which is often a contributing factor to developing hemorrhoids

Featured Image: iStock.com/redonion1515

References 

Brister, DVM, J. G. (2020, August 7). Rectal Prolapse in Dogs and Cats. Veterinary Partner. https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&id=9761112

Rubin, DVM, MS, DACVIM, S. I. (n.d.). Disorders of the Rectum and Anus in Dogs. Merck Vet Manual. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/digestive-disorders-of-dogs/disorders-of-the-rectum-and-anus-in-dogs

Sherding, R. G. (1994). Chapter 11: Anorectal Diseases. In Saunders Manual of Small Animal Practice (pp. 781–782). American Animal Hospital Association. 

 

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