We recently wrote about diarrhea in dogs, and figured we’d address the other side of the bowel movement coin: constipation in dogs. It’s not exactly the most thrilling of topics, but it’s an important one when it comes to monitoring and protecting the health of your guide, hearing, or service dog.
Constipation refers to difficulty or the inability to pass stool, or doing so infrequently. It’s pretty common in canines, and is often marked by straining to defecate; passing small, hard, and/or dry poop; or passing mucus.You can undoubtedly tell if your assistance dog is working harder than usual to go, if her stool is abnormal, or if she’s not going as frequently as she usually does.
Is It Serious?
Most bouts of constipation aren’t cause for concern. But it can also indicate a serious condition, including an intestinal obstruction, which can be life threatening. If your assistance dog is showing other symptoms, such as fever, lethargy, weakness, stomach pain, loss of appetite, vomiting, a distended belly, or bloody stool, take her in to your veterinarian right away. Also go in for a checkup if she hasn’t had a bowel movement in two days, even if you haven’t noticed any other symptoms.
Common Causes of Constipation in Dogs
Here are the most likely culprits when it comes to constipation in dogs:
- Dietary changes
- Too much/too little dietary fiber
- Medication side effects
- Anal sac problems
- Ingestion of too much hair from excessive self-grooming
- Ingestion of foreign matter
- Matted hair around the anus
- Intestinal blockage
- Digestive tract tumors
- Enlarged prostate
- Pelvic trauma
- Orthopedic issues interfering with defecation positioning
- Hormonal disorders
- Neurological disorders
Diagnosing Constipation in Dogs
As you can see, all sorts of things trigger constipation in dogs. Sometimes, getting to the bottom of it is easy, like if it coincides with a dietary change or you can see excessive matting around the anus. If you need to see your vet, be prepared to explain how long the constipation has been going on and how it has manifested, as well as any other physical or behavioral symptoms you’ve observed. If your assistance dog is passing any stool, bring in a sample.
This information and a physical examination help your vet narrow down the possible causes. Additional testing may be performed, possibly including a fecal exam, urinalysis, bloodwork, X-rays or other internal imaging. In some cases, an endoscopy or other more invasive procedures may be needed to get a definitive answer.
Treating Constipation in Dogs
The cause of your service, hearing, or guide dog’s constipation obviously affects the treatment. As far as what you can try on your own at home for mild constipation, increase your dog’s activity, make sure she’s drinking plenty of water, and offer extra fiber in the form of canned pumpkin or wheat bran. Another option is a psyllium product like unflavored Metamucil; give 1/2 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight mixed in with a meal. Switching from kibble to wet food sometimes helps too, mostly because of the significantly higher moisture content.
If necessary, ask your vet about administering a stool softener or laxative. Your vet can also perform an enema, but don’t ever do this yourself (unless your vet has given you the OK, recommended a specific product, and provided instructions on how to do it). If more serious intervention is necessary for your assistance dog’s constipation, your vet will advise you.