Dog Constipation Causes and Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen Claussen, DVM on January 23, 2023
5 min read

Constipation is a common health problem in dogs and means a dog can’t pass a normal stool on a regular basis. 

This can happen for different reasons and usually can be easily fixed, but some dogs may get chronic constipation. This can lead to obstipation, where the stool becomes drier, harder, and compacted and the dog can’t defecate at all.

In normal digestion, waste is full of water and electrolytes as it is pushed through the intestines to the colon by an automatic muscular motion called peristaltic waves. The water is absorbed in the colon and the waste is moved out as a stool. 

If this process becomes slow or impaired, the colon will keep absorbing water and the stool will become harder, drier, and possibly compacted.

Some of the most common causes of constipation in dogs include:

  • Lack of exercise
  • Poor diet or sudden diet changes
  • Not enough fiber
  • Blockages from eating non-food items like garbage, bones, gravel, or plants 
  • Too much self-grooming that leads to hair collecting in the stool
  • Age
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Renal issues
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Enlarged colon
  • Anal gland problems
  • Dehydration
  • Spinal injury
  • Certain medications
  • Surgery or anesthesia effects 
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Tumors 
  • Trauma to the pelvis
  • History of constipation

Symptoms of dog constipation include:

  • Lack of defecation for a few days
  • Hard, pebble-like stool
  • Straining without producing much stool
  • Discomfort
  • Painful defecation
  • Difficult defecation
  • Mucus with stool
  • Bloody stool

Constipation can happen to any dog, but it is more common in older dogs. This is often caused by not enough electrolytes or a kidney problem. An enlarged prostate in older male dogs can also cause constipation. 

If your dog’s constipation goes untreated, it can become obstipation. This happens when the waste in the colon becomes so dry and hard that it can't be moved. The colon then becomes packed with stool and your dog is unable to pass it. This leads to a condition called megacolon.

The colon becomes uncomfortably large, and your dog may become bloated and lethargic, lose their appetite, strain while defecating, and vomit. These can lead to more serious complications and may require medical help like surgery, or a manual stool removal called de-obstipation.

It may be difficult to manually remove all the stool at one time, which can lead to multiple procedures and a high cost. Given that the process involves anesthesia, this can lead to a greater risk to your dog's health. 

Most of the time, occasional constipation can easily be treated at home with lifestyle adjustments. You may be able to help ease your dog’s constipation with a home remedy, but make sure to talk to your vet first. Constipation can be a sign of more serious conditions.

If your dog is constipated, you can try these home remedies to relieve their pain:

  • Pumpkin puree. This puree is high in fiber and moisture, it helps regulate the digestive tract, and 100% pumpkin puree is best. Do not give your dog pumpkin pie filling. You can feed your dog the puree straight from the can, and they will consider it a nice treat. 
  • Canned dog food. The softer food and higher moisture content will help regulate their digestive system and create softer stool. You should mix canned food in with their normal food to avoid an upset stomach.
  • Dietary fiber supplements will increase fiber in their bodies, which will help soften their stool and regulate their bowel movements. Ask your veterinarian to recommend specific types and dosages of supplements for your dog.
  • Access to fresh water makes sure they are well-hydrated. It is best to encourage your dog to drink plenty of water. If they are not drinking anything at all, you should seek veterinary care. 
  • Exercise. Take your dog for long walks to get their bowels moving and stimulate a healthy movement. Exercises like running, fetch, and chase are great ways to promote a healthy digestive tract. 

For chronic or persistent constipation, your vet may recommend some changes or other treatments. These may include:

Enemas for dogs.Enemas can be uncomfortable for your dog. Most dogs do not tolerate this procedure, and it should not be forced on your dog. Also, enema solutions can be toxic to dogs and cause injury if they’re done wrong. It’s important to leave these procedures to your vet to perform if needed.

Laxatives for dogs. You should speak to your vet before giving a laxative solution to your dog. Long-term use and other conditions like dehydration can make laxative solutions unsafe. 

Low-residue diet. A low-residue diet is often a better long-term solution for persistent constipation. This kind of diet means your dog may digest more nutrients and have less waste to pass into the colon. 

This might be better than a long-term high-fiber diet. Fiber absorbs water from the colon and can aggravate constipation over time. This kind of diet is usually only available through your veterinarian.

Other treatment options for serious constipation issues may include:

  • Manual removal if the colon is impacted
  • Enzyme-blocking medications
  • Nerve-stimulating medications
  • Surgery 

If you see your dog circling a lot, dragging their bottom across the ground, squatting frequently, or even crying out in pain, they could be constipated. If you see your dog struggling to produce fecal matter, check on what they are able to produce.

Your dog’s feces may be very small and contain water or mucus. This may look like diarrhea, but it could be a sign of constipation. You can lightly press your dog's abdomen to feel if it’s tense or painful for your dog.

It is important to pay attention to your dog’s daily bowel movements. Constipation should resolve within 48 hours if your dog gets enough water, daily exercise, and a well-balanced diet. If it does not – or if your dog shows signs of discomfort or vomiting – you should schedule a veterinary appointment right away to find the cause. 

When you visit the veterinarian, make sure you provide as much information as possible, including:

  • The last time your dog had a normal bowel movement
  • Stool color and consistency
  • Changes in your dog’s diet or routine
  • Non-food items your dog may have eaten (such as bones or kitty litter)
  • Medications
  • Injuries
  • Straining or pain while trying to go
  • Signs of distress or discomfort, especially vomiting, lethargy, or bloating

Your veterinarian will do a physical exam to identify any abnormalities like tumors, foreign objects, or a distended colon. Sometimes, blood tests, X-rays, or ultrasounds will be necessary to identify the cause of the constipation. Your vet will determine the proper treatment for your dog’s constipation.