Constipation in Dogs

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Infrequent, incomplete or difficult defecation, with passage of hard or dry bowel movements (feces), is medically referred to as constipation in dogs.

 

Obstipation is a pronounced form of constipation that is difficult to manage or does not respond to medical treatment. It can be very painful for dogs. Obstipation is caused by chronic constipation—a prolonged retention of hard, dry feces. Defecation becomes impossible in patients with this condition.

 

Symptoms and Types of Constipation in Dogs

 

  • Straining to defecate with small or no fecal volume

  • Hard, dry feces

  • Infrequent defecation or lack of defecation

  • Small amount of liquid stool with mucus in it—sometimes with blood present—produced after prolonged straining to defecate (known as tenesmus)

  • Occasional vomiting

  • Lack of appetite

  • Depression

  • Colon filled with hard, compacted fecal material

  • Swelling around the anus

  • Pain or vocalizing when defecating

 

Causes

 

  • Swallowed bones

  • Swallowed hair

  • Foreign material

  • Excessive fiber in the diet

  • Inadequate fiber in the diet

  • Inappropriate diet

  • Inadequate water intake

  • Lack of exercise

  • Trauma

  • Intestinal blockage

  • Paralysis/muscle weakness—muscles of intestines are unable to move fecal material

  • Neurologic dysfunction

  • Low blood calcium

  • High levels of parathyroid hormone (important in calcium absorption)

  • Low levels of blood potassium

  • Low levels of thyroid hormone in the blood

  • Change of environment (hospitalization, move, etc.)

  • Inability to walk to toileting area or to posture properly

 

Diagnosis

 

You will need to provide a thorough history of your pet's health leading up to the onset of your dog’s constipation. Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam on your dog, possibly including a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, an electrolyte panel and a urinalysis.

 

Your veterinarian may also evaluate your pet for signs of arthritis or joint pain, which can be a contributing factor to your pet’s reluctance to posture.

 

X-rays are crucial for visualizing the abdomen and intestinal tract in order to determine the severity of the impaction. Ultrasound imaging of the abdomen can be useful in determining the cause of constipation if a structural issue is suspected.

 

Your veterinarian may also choose to use a colonoscopy (a diagnostic tool that is inserted into the colon to visualize the interior) to diagnose and identify a mass, stricture, or other colonic or rectal lesion.

 

Treatment of Constipation in Dogs

 

If your dog is dehydrated or obstipated, then he will need to be treated on an inpatient basis. Fluid therapy will be given, and if your dog is taking any prescription pet medications that may be causing the constipation, they will be discontinued or replaced.

 

Dietary supplementation with a bulk-forming agent (such as bran, methylcellulose, canned pumpkin, psyllium) may be helpful. However, these agents can sometimes worsen fecal distension within the colon. If this occurs, you will need to switch to a low residue-producing diet for your dog, such as a gastrointestinal prescription dog food.

 

After your doctor has determined that your dog is sufficiently rehydrated, manual removal of the feces—with your dog under general anesthesia—will be conducted. If the impaction is not too severe, enemas may help to loosen or dislodge the impaction. But generally the impaction must be removed manually.

 

Your veterinarian may do this by hand or with forceps. If the dog constipation has been chronic, your veterinarian may need to perform a surgical procedure to remove part of the colon. This type of surgery is known as a subtotal colectomy. It is normally utilized in cases of recurring obstipation, or when circumstances suggest that the colon has been irreversibly damaged.

 

Living and Management

 

Monitor the frequency of your dog’s defecation and stool consistency at least twice a week. As your pet’s bowel movements normalize, you can begin to check their stools weekly or biweekly.

 

Contact your veterinarian if you notice very hard, dry feces, or if you see that your dog is straining while defecating. Diarrhea is also a cause for concern, since it can quickly lead to dehydration.

 

To prevent a recurrence of constipation in dogs, feed your dog a veterinarian-approved dog food and be sure to keep your dog active. An active dog is better able to maintain a healthy weight, and exercise helps the muscles of the intestine work properly.

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