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Help For A Constipated Puppy

A constipated puppy is generally one who hasn't had a bowel movement in 24 hours, or is passing tiny, hard feces and often having difficulty doing it.

Tiny puppy on a leash outdoors

Most often the causes of constipation in puppies are simple.... such as not drinking enough water or getting too little exercise.

In this case Fido's inability to poop is likely to be the only sign of a problem.

Sometimes medication side-effects, eating something that was inedible, or physical problems (such as long, matted hair around the anus) can cause constipation in puppies. These types of constipation may, or may not, be serious.

Occasionally being unable to poop can be caused by something much more serious such as a bowel obstruction or dog bloat.

There are different treatment options for constipation in puppies and dogs, depending on the cause and how severe it is.

There are also ways to prevent the problem from happening in the first place.

If your puppy has eaten or swallowed anything he shouldn't or if he's constipated and showing any of these symptoms he needs veterinary help immediately, it could be an emergency situation.

  • distressed
  • in pain
  • vomiting
  • retching
  • has a distended belly

What Causes Constipation In Puppies?

There are several different things that can make a pup constipated, they range from the simple and obvious, to the unexpected or unusual!

Your pup may not be constipated if....

..... you've only had him for about 24 - 48 hours.

This is because for the first day or so in a new home, a puppy is often stressed and may behave in unusual ways - including peeing less than normal and even refusing to poop!

Visit my Bringing Home A New Puppy page for more on these early days.

All puppies can get 'backed up' now and then, but if you have a very small, tiny or toy breed pup his chances of getting constipated are  higher than those of a large or giant breed puppy.

Some of the most common causes of constipation in puppies include:

  • Hairballs
    If you thought it was just cats that got  hairballs, think again. Dogs who groom/lick themselves a lot, especially if they're long haired, can swallow a lot of fur. This can then get balled up inside your pup and cause a blockage or slow down the intestinal tract. Resulting in a constipated puppy.

  • Eating Odd Stuff
    Puppies will be puppies, and they tend to want to eat everything that's not nailed down, and some things that are! However, ingesting inappropriate items can result in constipation due to an internal slowdown, or traffic jam. At worst it can cause a complete blockage (which requires urgent veterinary attention). Crunchy bone treats, rawhide toys or even natural bones can also cause this problem. Not surprisingly, so can plastic grocery sacks, the contents of the bathroom trash can or your best undies! If your pup eats something he shouldn't , watch carefully for it to 'come out the other end' within 24 - 36hours. If it doesn't OR if your pup shows signs of constipation, pain or distress, get him to your vet for an evaluation immediately.

  • Medications
    Some medications taken to treat other conditions can also cause constipation as a side effect. Antihistamines are a common cause of this. So are diarrhea medications such as Immodium or Pepto Bismol (not surprisingly). It's never a good idea give your pup any kind of medication without clearing it with your vet first. Adverse, or unexpected, reactions can occur and it's always better to be safe than sorry.

  • Parasites
    Parasites such as worms are more likely to cause diarrhea in puppies than constipation, but it can happen. Most puppies have worms at some point and to some degree, and these are going to cause problems if not treated properly, or proactively.
  • Medical Conditions
    Although puppy constipation is rarely caused by any serious medical issues, it can happen, and in older dogs it's even more possible. Structural or skeletal abnormalities, hernias, or infection can sometimes cause puppies or dogs of all ages to have difficulty pooping properly. Kidney disease, prostate problems, tumors may cause constipation in adult dogs. Swallowing a foreign object that can't pass through the intestines, could cause a blockage which is life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated quickly.

    A serious, often life-threatening condition called Bloat can also cause your puppy or dog to squat and strain, or retch and dry-heave. He may have a distended or hard belly, and pant, pace, whine or collapse. This is a veterinary emergency.

  • 'Mechanical Constipation' or 'Psuedoconstipation'
    This is caused by long hair around the dogs' anus/bottom getting tangled or matted. If it gets bad enough, the hair can prevent bowel movements, and you have a constipated puppy on your hands.

  • Surgery
    Surgery, and the accompanying anesthesia and lack of activity during the recovery period, can cause your pups' digestive system to slow down - this may result in constipation. It's something worth remembering in the days after your pup has been spayed or neutered.

How To Treat A Constipated Puppy

If, in spite of your best efforts, your pup becomes constipated there are some straightforward remedies that should get his bowels moving fairly quickly.

Siberian Husky puppy pooping outdoors

Adding certain things to their diet can often help a constipated puppy feel better.

Here are a few to try:

  • Canned Pumpkin
    A simple dog constipation remedy is to add a little canned pumpkin (NOT the pie filling variety, just good old plain pumpkin) in your pups' meals can be helpful. Add 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon depending on his size. Pureed pumpkin baby food also works.

  • Bran
    Add some extra fiber in the form of Bran, Metamucil, Benefiber or similar products. About 1/2 teaspoon added to your pups meals for a few days. If your dog weighs over 50lbs you can use 1 tablespoon instead. 1 teaspoon of oat bran, or 2 teaspoons of Grape Nut flakes added to her food will work the same way.

  • Oil
    Adding some extra oil to your pups diet can help to soften the stools and help his bowels keep moving along nicely. 1/2 tsp of olive oil added to his meals works. For more difficult cases, try 1 - 2 teaspoons of Mineral Oil, but don't do this for longer than 3 or 4 days. Mineral oil removes Vitamin A from your dog's body and it can be harmful if used for longer than this.

  • 'Special' Dog Foods
    Some manufacturers sell dog food that is specifically formulated with extra fiber to help a constipated dog or puppy move their bowels regularly. Most foods contain between 2% and 4% fiber, Solid Gold dry dog food has 5%, and Hills offer two foods - I/D and W/D. These are available from most veterinary clinics.

  • Milk
    Dogs don't digest cows' milk properly, and in normal circumstances it causes diarrhea. However, if you have a constipated puppy you can add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of milk to their food or water, or just give it to them to drink. Do this once a day for a couple of days and it should help loosen the bowels.

  • Keeping Long Hair Trimmed
    If you have a constipated puppy due to long, tangled or matted hair around his little bottom, carefully trim it away with small scissors. Be very careful not to cut the skin. Keeping this hair short in the future should prevent a recurrence. If your pup has been constipated for a while, just trimming the hair may not be enough to get his bowels moving. You may need to also use another dog constipation remedy as well.

  • OTC Dog Constipation Remedies
    There are a few OTC treatments available for a constipated dog or pup. To prevent, and eliminate, hairballs that are causing your dog's constipation, try Laxatone . It has been specifically formulated to prevent and eliminate those pesky hairballs, and has a laxative effect to help end your dogs' constipation.

Petwellbeing Smooth BM Gold is a totally natural product that can help to relieve canine constipation and also maintain healthy bowel function, without causing your puppy any discomfort.

There's also one more natural, gentle, herbal remedy that you might want to try... Only Natural Pet Laxa-Herb Herbal Formula which is a gentle, laxative herbal formula for overnight relief.

Puppy Constipation - A Veterinarian's View

Constipation is relatively uncommon in dogs, especially puppies.  Puppies who are having a hard time defecating should see the veterinarian, because it may be an indicator of a more severe problem. 

There are many potential causes for constipation and ongoing or severe constipation doesn’t usually happen ‘just because’.  In addition to managing the symptoms of constipation, it is important to identify the underlying problem. 

If your pup or dog is constsipated his stools might be firm, dry, chalky, or have an unusual shape. 

Older puppies have a tendency to eat things they shouldn’t, and will struggle to defecate in attempts to pass foreign material that has made its way to the large intestine.  If they are concurrently vomiting or not eating well, it may be a sign of a gastrointestinal obstruction. Obstruction usually requires surgery and warrants immediate evaluation. 

Intestinal parasites or worms are a common cause of diarrhea in puppies, but may occasionally cause constipation. Parasites are very common in puppies, so should be considered as a potential cause for any abnormal defecation.

Some medicines can cause constipation in puppies.  Opioid pain medications are one culprit. If your puppy has recently had spay or neuter surgery or has been treated for a traumatic injury, this may be the case.

Over the counter diarrhea medications such as Imodium are designed to slow down the intestinal tract and can easily cause constipation, especially in smaller dogs.  I almost never recommend that owners give Imodium for this reason. 

Back pain, hip pain, or abdominal pain from recent surgeries may all deter your puppy from posturing to defecate, leading stool to back up.  Usually these puppies will show other signs of pain in addition to difficult defecation.  They may be limping, standing with a ‘hunched’ appearance, not eating well, or acting generally uncomfortable and restless.

If your puppy has frequent bouts of constipation, an anatomical defect in the colon or rectum should be considered.  This may include strictures or diverticulum that hinders the passage of stool. 

A narrow pelvic canal can also limit the ability have a normal bowel movement.  This can happen due to developmental abnormalities or if the pelvic bones have previously fractured and healed in abnormal positions.

Colitis, or inflammation of the large intestine, is a common problem in puppies.  This can happen as a result of stress, GI viruses, dietary changes, or intestinal parasites.  Usually colitis results in soft stool or diarrhea, and there may be blood or mucus produced.  Dogs with colitis will frequently strain in attempts to defecate, so it is often confused with constipation. 

Colitis is usually treated with intestinal antibiotics, probiotics, and bland diets.  Stool softeners that are used for constipation would not be very helpful for most cases of colitis.

Intestinal, rectal, or abdominal tumors, hernias, prostatic problems, endocrine diseases, and systemic disease that leads to chronic dehydration are all possible causes of constipation in older dogs.

Dogs that suffer from frequent constipation can even develop megacolon, a motility disorder in which the intestinal muscle does not contract as it should.  The large intestine becomes permanently dilated and cannot propel stool as it should.  These problems are very uncommon in puppies.

If your puppy is having trouble defecating, he should be seen by the vet.  Try to provide a good description of the symptoms and the circumstances.  Your vet may want to know the consistency of the stool, the frequency that he attempts to defecate, his diet history, and if he is having any other symptoms.

It is also important to make sure your puppy is urinating normally. Sometimes straining to urinate can be confused for constipation.  

Your vet will perform a physical exam and may also perform a rectal exam to check for any masses, strictures, or foreign material.  They may run a fecal exam to check for intestinal parasites.  Based on the symptoms, they might diagnose your puppy with colitis and treat appropriately. However, if true constipation is suspected, your vet may recommend therapy to relieve the symptoms. 

For mild constipation the addition of fiber to the diet may help.  Canned pumpkin, over the counter Metamucil or Miralax, or high fiber diets are all options.  More severe or chronic cases of constipation may require enemas for evacuation of stool, prescription stool softeners, medications that stimulate intestinal motility, and fluid therapy for rehydration. 

These treatments can provide relief, but if your puppy is having frequent episodes of constipation, it is highly recommended to pursue additional testing to find the underlying problem. 

Bloodwork, abdominal x-rays, barium contrast studies, ultrasound, or intestinal scoping may all be required to look for anatomic abnormalities or other underlying disorders.  

Author: Dr. Megen Teiber, DVM

Constipation Prevention for Puppies & Dogs

Here are some simple things you can do to help prevent your puppy from getting constipated in the first place....

  • Diet
    Just like in people, a diet that contains enough fiber will help the digestive system to function properly. If your pup or dog is prone to constipation, choose a dog food with a minimum of 4% fiber, 5% is even better. Solid Gold Dry Dog Food has 5% fiber, and you can also buy special 'prescription' or high-fiber foods such as Hills I/D or W/D which have significantly higher fiber content (between 8 and 16%). Hills Foods are available from your veterinarian. Giving your puppy snacks of raw carrots, celery, apples or pears can also be beneficial.

  • Fluids
    Your puppy needs access to fresh water at all times during the day. Aim for a daily minimum of about one ounce of water per pound of body weight, in hot weather, a centrally heated/dry environment or if your dog is very active he'll need more. If your pup has some issues with slow moving bowels and you can't seem to get him to drink more, you can always add some warm water to his dry food at one mealtime each day to get some more fluids into him.

  • Exercise
    Plenty of exercise is essential to keep your puppy health and happy. If you have a constipated puppy (or one who tendency towards it), increasing his exercise and activity level can help. The benefits are two-fold; firstly, the physical aspects of the exercise help to keep his digestive system and bowels 'moving along' preventing the sluggishness that can lead to constipation.

    Secondly, long walks or a vigorous game of 'fetch' or frisbee keep him outside longer and help to give him plenty of time to eliminate when he has the chance. If you're housebreaking or crate training, and your pup doesn't do his business while your out, he may try to 'hold it' for too long, and this can cause the colon to slow down and the feces to get hard and difficult to pass.

  • Trimming Long Hair
    This may sound odd, but sometimes in long haired breeds, the hair around the puppy's rear end becomes tangled or matted, and it actually physically prevents the puppy from having a bowel movement. If you have a constipated puppy who has long hair around his bottom, keeping it trimmed short will prevent this sort of 'mechanical constipation'.

The bottom line (pun totally intended!)....

If your puppy is constipated and you're worried that he may have an intestinal blockage, bloat, or be in pain/distress then you need to have him seen by a vet right away.

If he seems happy and healthy apart from the constipation, but you've tried the tips on this page but your pup still can't pass any bowel movements then you need to consult a vet for advice.

For your peace of mind, puppy and dog health information on this site has been approved by veterinarian Dr. Megan Teiber, DVM

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