CVMA-ACMV

What Can I Give a Small Dog for Constipation?

October 23, 2012

Constipation is defined as the frequent passage of stool leading to buildup of feces in the lower bowels, or colon. If left unattended, the condition may become irreversible and bowels may completely block with dry fecal matter, a condition called obstipation. Chronic constipation is a serious problem that leads to discomfort during defecation because stools become very dry and hard and can cause damage to the lining of the lower bowel. A dog may sometimes yelp and drag its rear end along the ground, or turn and lick and bite it. A dog will generally strain to pass even a small amount of stool. Sometimes a mucoid diarrhea with or without blood will be noted, because the dog is able only to pass a small amount of fluid intestinal contents around (and past) the retained hard stool. Usually small sized, hard textured fecal balls are passed.

Before treating constipation, if possible, a cause should be identified. Constipation can be associated with many underlying abnormal conditions. Treating the primary problem that leads to constipation may be curative, and thus is a better approach. To treat just the resulting condition may allow the underlying problem to progress. If constipation occurs, your veterinarian should be consulted to schedule a thorough physical examination. Blood, urine and stool samples may also be obtained for further analysis. Sometimes, imaging tests such as X-rays are also recommended.

Anything that slows the transit of the gut contents through the digestive tract can result in constipation. Slower transit time leads to increased absorption of water back into the body, and this dries out the feces making them hard. Once dried, they are more difficult for the guts to effectively push along and pass. 

Causes of constipation may include hormone conditions, pain in the pelvic area resulting from trauma, arthritis or spinal disk disease, nerve trauma or masses that partially block the tract such as polyps or cancerous masses. Infections of anal glands located next to the anus, bite wounds around the rear end, or foreign material such as bones in the lower gut can also interfere with normal defecation. Certain drugs may slow the gut contractions, and certain foods may favour constipation due to the particular diet formulation. Dogs that are obese, losing their mobility, or are stressed due to travel and changes in routine may also pass their bowels less frequently, leading to constipation. 

Treatment depends on the cause, but general therapy to soften and remove the impacted stool will be recommended. Sometimes, if constipation is severe, the dog may stop eating, vomit, become dehydrated and debilitated and in-hospital fluid and supportive therapy may be required to initially stabilize the patient. Laxatives, lubricants, enemas and suppositories are all possible treatments. Severe constipation may also require that the patient receive a general anesthetic and undergo an assisted removal of large fecal masses by the surgeon.  Early intervention is important. Early constipation cases often respond to home administration of prescribed medical therapy.