What to Look for With Bowel Changes?
As a dog owner, you know all about dog poop, especially the poop of your own dog. You can easily notice if your dog has loose bowels or constipation and even constipation can be a medical emergency.
How much should your dog poop and how often? In a healthy dog, the stomach’s nerves send signals to a dog’s colon to work. The gastro-colon reflex is what makes dogs must go to the bathroom after meals. A full stomach tells the intestines to push food through for digestion. Most dogs poop once a day and some poop three times a day normally. True constipation is rare in canines and occurs when a dog either poops less frequently, has difficulty passing bowel movements or had dry hard feces that look like balls. A healthy dog poop looks like the favorite emoji or a soft log.
A dog that has large rabbit pellets instead of a proper poo will also have some discomfort if genuinely constipated. A dog will strain when trying to poop and may even whimper or cry. If a dog has a backed-up colon, they will also have pain and can become nauseated when what has gone in cannot come out. Some dogs drag their bottoms on the ground or scoot or compulsively lick their anuses trying to stimulate a bowel movement. If the case of their constipation is neurological and caused by nerve issues and signals not working properly, a dog may have weakness or pain in their hindquarters or be unable to hold their tail up. When a dog exerts effort to poop it is not a sign of constipation. Some dogs do have a lot of spasms of their colon and very little stool passes or the stools are mushy and may have blood or mucus in them. This is a medical condition called colitis and required medical care and treatment but a dog that hunkers down and squats and appears to be making effort and having a normal solid evenly colored bowel movement and doing so at least daily is not something to be worried about. Concern is warranted only when an owner notices a change in their canines’ bathroom habits. Dogs may also strain when passing stool due to urinary tract infections or prostate problems in male dogs. Sometimes they are having problems peeing and it appears as if they are trying to poop and nothing is coming out. A physical exam by a vet can determine if the posture is due to the urinary system or the digestive system.
Common causes of constipation are from a dog changing a change in their diet, a diet that accidentally includes indigestible materials such as hair or bone and most commonly inadequate hydration and not drinking enough water. Constipation is also a common side effect of antihistamines, diuretics used to treat kidney conditions and opioids for pain relief. Medical causes of constipation can be serious and indicate an undiagnosed medical condition. Enlarged prostates or prostate cancer and infections can occur in in male dogs, especially unneutered males. Anal gland issues such as abscesses, tumors and peri-anal hernias as well as lymph node swelling can make stools hard to pass. If a dog has had a pelvic fracture and has recovered, some pelvic fracture may heal and narrow the pelvic opening. Painful conditions such as intervertebral disc disease and severe physical injuries from trauma or even severe osteoarthritis can make voiding painful enough that a dog tries to not go to spare themselves any discomfort from pooping.
When a dog is constipated, a vet visit is called for, especially if a dog has not had a bowel movement in over 24-36 hours. The vet will do a full physical exam and make sure the dog is healthy and determine the cause of the constipation. A stool sample should be brought to the visit or will be taken by the vet. The dog may also need some lab work done and some X-rays to check for intestinal blockage. The vet will also check to make sure that infected anal glands or perineal trauma is not preventing pooping. Diet and activity and a full health history is needed. If constipation is a symptom of an underlying medical condition, it is better to seek vet care and make sure the dog is just having some digestive abnormality instead of a serious health condition causing their constipation. Prolonged constipation can also make a dog unwell and can lead to health problems that require invasive medical procedures to empty the colon. Untreated bacteria can cause toxic megacolon which is painful and places a dog at risk of developing blood poisoning system wide as waste and bacteria accumulate in the bowels and enter the blood stream. When it comes to poop, better out than in is the ultimate rule, especially if there’s been a couple days without poop.
Canine constipation can be treated in many cases with a change in diet and adding more fiber and ensuring that a dog gets enough hydration to keep things moving. Dogs enjoy a few teaspoons of canned pumpkin to add fiber and many enjoy bran doggie treats. Some dogs can even take over the counter stool softeners at doggie-safe dosages under vet advice after examination. For anal glands and severe constipation, expressing the glands and antibiotics are needed to cure the infection. If the dog clean up bags are not having normal contents, call your vet and make an appointment to make sure your dog is healthy and comfy.