Constipation is a condition characterized by the inability to defecate with ease or regularity, resulting in fecal retention within the colon. Tenesmus, or straining to defecate, usually accompanies constipation due to the difficulty in passage. This dilemma tends to worsen over time, since the longer the feces is retained in the colon, the more moisture is reabsorbed by the colon, predisposing to even greater dryness and impaction. Other clinical signs seen with constipation include anxiousness, vocalizations while trying to eliminate, and a hunched-back appearance. In severe, long-standing cases of constipation, loss of appetite, vomiting, and dehydration can result.
There are several potential causes of constipation in dogs, including poor intestinal motility, underlying dehydration, foreign body impaction, and intestinal masses or blockages. A definitive diagnosis of the underlying cause can generally be made by a veterinarian using a history of the problem, physical examination, stool evaluations, and radiographs of the abdomen. It's important to rule out other causes of apparent "straining", including colitis and urination difficulties, since these will be treated differently.
Initial treatment for constipation involves the administration of an enema to emptying the colon of fecal material. This should be performed only with the approval of your dog's doctor. The safest type of enema to use on a dog is a DSS (dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate) enema; these are available from veterinarians in convenient single dose administration syringes. Soapy, warm-water enemas can also be administered via a bulb syringe. Commercially-available enemas designed for humans (i.e. Fleet Enemas) SHOULD NOT be used in dogs, since these can lead to severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
In severe cases of constipation, intravenous fluid therapy may be required to restore water balance within the body and help normalize large intestinal function. In rare instances, manual evacuation of the colon or surgical intervention may be required.
Long-term management procedures to prevent recurrence will depend on the underlying cause. Laxatives may be prescribed to help regulate the frequency of bowel movements. In addition, increasing dietary fiber is an effective way to prevent constipation. Good sources to add to the diet include bran flakes, canned pumpkin filling, or psyllium supplements.
If your dog appears to be constipated, contact your veterinarian and follow his/her instructions. The sooner you address the problem, the quicker your pet will feel better. And as a pet owner, that's your ultimate goal!