Understanding Canine Constipation and What to Do About It

Canine constipation is incredibly uncomfortable, but home remedies and prevention can make a world of difference.

Updated September 13, 2023
lethargic bulldog

Canine constipation isn’t the most appealing topic, but it’s one that’s necessary to discuss. Like us, our dogs become extremely uncomfortable when their bowels aren’t working properly. It’s not a good time for them or for us.

Luckily, there are actions you can take at home to get things flowing. If home remedies don’t work quickly, though, you’ll have to make an appointment with the vet.

Signs Your Dog Is Constipated

If your dog strains strongly during a bowel movement and/or passes hard, small stools, this is a sign of canine constipation. Your pet may also strain without producing any stool at all.

You may notice them yelping or whining when they try to poop. There could even be blood or mucus in the stool. In more severe cases, your dog may vomit, lose their energy, and completely lose their desire to eat. You may also notice your dog's stomach get a bit larger. 

Causes of Constipation in Dogs

There are many causes of canine constipation. The most common causes are a lack of fiber in the diet, dehydration, and a lack of exercise. Other possible causes include:

  • Diet: Your dog may have too much fiber in their diet, a shortage of water, or even insufficient fiber to pass the stools properly. 
  • Intestinal: If your dog eats something they shouldn't, like a bone fragment or a rock, their intestines could get blocked. 
  • Parasites: Different types of worms or other intestinal parasites could cause constipation. 
  • Medications: Check out your dog's list of medications and review the side effects. Is constipation on the list? If so, it's time to talk to your vet.
  • Surgery: Surgery can back things up and make it uncomfortable for your dog to poop.
  • Prostate in male dogs: Enlarged prostate or prostate tumors in older males can make it harder for your dog to poop.
  • Lack of exercise: Without enough exercise, your dog's body won't regulate their bowels well. Physical activity helps keep things moving.
Need to Know

Dogs with long fur that groom excessively could block their intestines because of the amount of fur ingested.

Home Remedies For Canine Constipation

walking the dog

There are some simple home remedies you can try to relieve canine constipation. If your pup has any underlying medical conditions other than constipation, don't forget to give your vet a call before you try anything new. Here are some ideas you can pass by your vet to help get your dog's bowels regulated.

  • Add pumpkin. Add fiber to your dog's diet by incorporating two tablespoons of plain, canned pumpkin once per day. Make sure that there are no additives, like sugars, in the pumpkin puree.
  • Try bran. Give your dog two to three tablespoons of bran to increase the fiber in their diet. Offer either bran or pumpkin, not both. Too much fiber could cause more problems.
  • Use mineral oil. Try one tablespoon of mineral oil per 25 pounds of body weight each day to get things moving.
  • Go for a walk. Take your dog on regular walks to help the bowels operate efficiently. Give them plenty of opportunities to relieve themselves, since holding stools too long can cause them to harden.
  • Offer plenty of water. Your dog should always have access to plenty of clean, fresh water. If you suspect dehydration, test your dog's hydration by gently pinching their skin. When you release the skin, it should spring back into place quickly. If it does not, your dog may be seriously dehydrated, and you should see your vet immediately.

If your dog still doesn't have a bowel movement or if they're vomiting, seek medical help immediately. A more serious condition that needs medical intervention may be the cause of your dog’s constipation. A blockage, for example, may require surgical removal. You should also check with your vet if any of the symptoms grow worse or if your dog is in excessive pain.

Quick Tip

Certain medications may cause constipation. If your dog is on medication, see your vet for a stool softener to help them go.

Chronic Constipation or Obstipation

Obstipation is a severe form of constipation where your dog can't pass stool at all. It can be really uncomfortable or even painful for your pup. Unlike regular constipation, which might resolve itself with some simple dietary changes or other home remedies, obstipation requires a vet's involvement. If you notice your dog straining to go but not producing anything, looking distressed, or showing signs of abdominal pain, get to the vet as soon as possible. It's not something you want to wait out, as it can lead to more serious complications.

Your vet will empty the colon with an enema and give fluids to rehydrate your dog. This may be done under general anesthesia in severe cases. A second cleansing may be necessary to make sure your dog's colon has been completely emptied.

Take Action to Prevent Constipation 

Constipation can make any dog miserable. And trust me, you don't want to see your dog struggle to go. It's not pleasant to think about, but if you have ever had this problem, you know how much it stinks — pun intended. Luckily, a few simple steps can help you prevent your pup from dealing with this problem. 

  • Diet: Feed your dog a high-quality diet with a lot of variety. Add pumpkin or bran to their food as a topper or stir it in for some additional fiber. 
  • Water: Always have clean, fresh water available. If you're busy like me, a fountain could be helpful, so you don't have to continuously change the water bowl. 
  • Grooming: Keep your dog's coat well-groomed and healthy. If your dog licks excessively, find and treat the underlying cause of the licking. This will reduce the chance of your dog blocking their intestines with a hairball.
  • Exercise: Make sure your dog has regular exercise and plenty of opportunities to poop. At least 30 minutes of exercise is recommended each day.
  • Make it easier: If you have an older dog or one with mobility issues, make sure their pooping spot is easily accessible. Sometimes dogs hold it in simply because getting to their usual bathroom spot is too difficult.
Quick Tip

It's not for everyone, but my dog hasn't had any problems with constipation since he started eating a raw diet. Do some digging if you're interested in transitioning your pooch. 

Keep Your Dog's Bowels Flowing 

Constipation in dogs is more than just an inconvenience. It can seriously affect your pup's well-being and make them extremely uncomfortable. From diet and hydration to exercise and grooming, there are multiple factors that can make or break your dog's digestive health.

You know your dog better than anyone, so if you notice they're struggling to do their business, don't ignore it. Simple steps like offering fiber-rich food and plenty of water, along with regular vet check-ups, can go a long way in avoiding canine constipation. But remember, if your dog's having a tough time and home remedies aren't doing the trick, it's time to talk to the vet. 

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Understanding Canine Constipation and What to Do About It