The two most common causes of constipation in dogs are the same as those that are likely to cause the problem in humans; a lack of water and/or fiber in the diet. It is important to rule out less common, more serious causes, just in case.
First, you need to be sure that he is constipated. The straining could be caused by difficulty urinating. Sometimes, it is hard to tell the difference. This is especially true with females who squat to urinate.
People who walk their dogs daily can usually tell the difference. It's harder to tell if a dog is kenneled or has a big backyard to roam around in.
Difficulty urinating is cause for an immediate veterinary visit. Breeds like Australian Shepherds are prone to bladder and urinary infections. Untreated, they can be life threatening.
Misty Blue and Pachee playing a little friendly game of tug-o-war, they are ham bones and when Mom gets the camera out they always stop whatever they are doing and pose. Misty is 3 and Pachee is 10 months.
Dogs that are older should be checked for electrolyte imbalance, a sign of kidney disease and other metabolic disorders. Older unneutered males should be checked for enlarged prostate or tumors. These conditions are treatable if caught early enough.
Regardless of your dog's age, you need to think about whether or not he ate some non-food item. Plastic, rubber, wood, corn cobs or any large item can cause a blockage requiring surgical removal. Small items should be visible in the stool within a day or two at most.
Dog constipation can be caused by certain medications. Antihistamines and similar compounds contribute to dehydration, increasing the dog's need for water.
If he seems to be chronically constipated, always has difficulty passing a stool or the stools are strangely shaped, the condition should be evaluated by your veterinarian.
A veterinary visit is also in order if there is blood or mucus in the stool following a period of straining. A bacterial infection such as e coli is more likely to cause diarrhea, but in a few cases it causes the opposite problem. Antibiotics should resolve either symptom.
Simple constipation in dogs typically lasts only a day or two, assuming you make the necessary changes in fiber and fluid intake. Dry foods are often the problem. Switching to canned, at least for a while, should resolve the issue. It should be obvious that canned foods contain more water. You might try mixing canned and dry.
Dry dog foods are better for the teeth. Canned foods are better for the digestive system. The moisture in canned foods helps prevent dog constipation and the dehydration that can accompany diarrhea.
Your dog's need for water changes with the season. During the hotter months, he will need more water. Herding breeds and others that are very active need more water.
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You should always be sure that your dog's water bowl is full and easily accessible as lack of water can be a cause of constipation in dogs. If you are gone for most of the day, you should invest in a gallon-sized self-watering bowl to be sure that he's drinking enough.
An automatic dog watering bowl is a good idea for any pet owner. Regular bowls can easily be overturned, leaving your pet with nothing to drink for hours at a time.
If canned food or increased water intake does not work for dog constipation, you can try adding fiber to their food. Canned pumpkin and 100% bran cereal are high in fiber. Most dogs will eat one or the other.
The BARF diet is another choice that is highly recommended by some veterinarians, not so much by others. BARF stands for bones and raw food. Some owners have found that it resolves digestive troubles, dog skin problems and other diet-related health problems. BARF is closer to the dog's natural diet.
When constipation in dogs lasts for more than two days, it is essential to contact a veterinarian. An intestinal blockage can kill.