Most dogs will strain to defecate at some point in their lives, but is it actually constipation? What should you do about it?
It’s important to differentiate between the causes of constipation and straining to defecate before you can determine the best plan for what to do about it. If your dog is straining to defecate, it may indicate something minor and temporary, or it may be a sign of an emergency. It’s important to get a look at the character and quality of his stools and to keep an eye out for other symptoms that may be happening as well.
Talk to a veterinarian if you notice that your dog seems constipated or is straining to defecate.
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Dogs strain to have a bowel movement for a variety of reasons, but true constipation is rare and beyond the scope of what pet parents should be trying to treat on their own. Straining to defecate is much more common and often confused with constipation.
"Most of the time when a dog strains to defecate, he isn’t constipated at all," says Dr. Jo Myers, DVM. "The most common circumstances under which a dog will strain to have a bowel movement is when his colon is irritated but empty. In other words, most episodes of straining to poop are associated with diarrhea and are essentially the opposite of constipation."
It’s important to understand the difference so you don’t unintentionally make things worse.
If your dog is truly constipated, you’ll know because his efforts will produce only small amounts of dry, hard, crumbly stool.
Keep in mind that true constipation is not a disease in and of itself. It happens secondary to some other illness. Usually that illness is something that affects the dog’s ability to stay optimally hydrated or move food through the digestive tract.
Sometimes, constipation will occur with a healthy dog, but only when he eats a really large amount of something hard and dry, like a bunch of sand, gravel, or bone.
If your dog is straining to defecate (and not truly constipated), the likely cause is that they are having diarrhea/colitis.
Other potential causes of straining to defecate can include but are not limited to:
Change in diet
Ingesting something toxic
If your dog is constipated, and not just straining to defecate, it's important to seek advice from a veterinary professional, as pet parents should not try to treat this on their own.
If your dog is straining to defecate, it's still wise to talk to a vet, however, there are some things can that potentially help things get moving.
If your dog is grooming excessively or inappropriately eating, the underlying cause should be discussed with a veterinarian and addressed.
If a dog is constipated because he’s repeatedly eating gravel or sand, the pet parent needs to try to stop him from doing that. Excessive grooming doesn’t tend to cause constipation, though. If your dog has such serious skin disease that he’s consuming enough hair to block him up, it’s safe to assume that skin disease is pretty apparent and warrants treatment on its own.
If your dog’s anal glands are not healthy, this can make defecation more difficult.
Although groomers can help with this, they typically only empty the glands externally, which is less complete than internal expression that vets perform. Other signs of anal gland problems include excessive licking and a fishy odor.
The anal gland area is also a common site for cancer and tumors and these can interfere with easily passing a bowel movement. This is especially common in intact (non-neutered) male dogs, so it’s important to have any abnormal growths near your dog’s anus checked out by a veterinarian.
With the help of a veterinarian, you can adjust your dog's diet to help them have healthy bowel movements.
While some suggest pumpkin for dogs who are straining to defecate, giving a dog with diarrhea/colitis canned pumpkin may actually make things worse. Some diarrheas are fiber-responsive, but some will actually get worse. It depends on the cause, which is why it's important to consult a vet.
Talk to a vet about your pet's unique needs — for free.
While increased exercise won't solve your dog's issue with straining to defecate, making sure your dog gets adequate exercise is an important part of maintaining healthy bowel habits.
True dog constipation is something only a veterinarian should handle. It's of the utmost importance to find the underlying cause to keep your dog healthy and comfortable.