Constipation can be a major problem in your dogs. Here’s how to treat it.
What is constipation?
Constipation means absent, infrequent or difficult defecation. Most healthy dogs have one or two stools a day. A day or even two without stools is not a cause for concern, if the stools remain normal in size and pass without difficulty. But when feces are retained in the colon for two to three days, they become dry and hard, and require forceful straining to pass. Note that straining also occurs in dogs with colitis, obstructed bladder, and anorectal obstructions. Colitis, in particular, is often confused with constipation. Remember that a dog with colitis will pass many small stools that contain mucus and/or blood.
Causes of constipation
Dehydration: Many middle-aged and older dogs are prone to constipation. A common predisposing cause is failure to drink enough water. With mild dehydration, water is withdrawn from the colon, which dehydrates the feces.
Foreign body ingestion: Swallowing ingesting foreign materials such as bone chips, hair, grass, cellulose, cloth, paper, and other substances is a well-recognised cause of acute and chronic constipation. The indigestible material mixes with feces to form rocklike masses in the colon.
Use of drugs: Many drugs commonly used in dogs cause constipation as a secondary side effect. For example, meloxicam, paracetamol, iron supplement, etc.
Hypothyroidism is an occasional cause of chronic constipation. Infected anal glands or a hip or pelvic injury that causes pain during defecation.
Enlarge prostrate: Intact male dogs, especially as they age, can develop enlarged prostates which compress the bowel, creating pencil thin stools or even an obstruction. This problem can usually be resolved by having your pet neutered.
Hernias in your dog’s rectum, in the area next to the anus, can cause constipation. The hernia bulges into the rectum, closing off passage of stool. Hernias usually require surgery to repair.
Other disorders: Some dogs have insufficient muscle tone or neuromuscular disorders that impede their body’s ability to efficiently move waste through the colon. Stool that stays too long in the bowel loses moisture and hardens, making it even more difficult for the dog to go. This can become a vicious cycle, because the more difficult or painful it is to go, the more likely the dog is to develop a habit of avoiding elimination.
Dogs with constipation of recent onset should be examined by a veterinarian. Other reasons to seek veterinary consultation are painful defecation, straining during defecation, and passing blood or mucus.
Constipation vs obstipation
Obstipation is the more correct medical terminology when dealing with a chronic constipation problem. When obstipated, the dog is unable to empty the colon without outside help. The obstipated colon will dilate and fill with an enormous volume of rock-hard feces. The dog is extremely uncomfortable, with frequent unproductive straining. If the colon is not cleared, the dog can become lethargic, lose his appetite, and begin to vomit. For moderate cases, the dog may be given IV fluids to help hydrate him and the veterinarian can give him an enema to help clear his colon. In severe cases, the dog must be anaesthetised so that the veterinarian can do a thorough cleansing. Sometimes a second cleansing will have to be performed a few days after the first one in order to clear out stool that was packed up into the inaccessible areas of the colon the first time.
Once you know this is a problem for your dog, try to get him to the veterinarian regularly to help keep him comfortable.
Surgical treatment option
Under certain, very specific circumstances, a pelvis-widening procedure might be the correct treatment method. If your dog’s obstipation is the result of a pelvic fracture, allow at least 6-12 months for the pelvis to return to normal. If the pelvic canal does not widen to its normal size, the surgeon can repair it by placing an implant between the two pelvic bones in an area called the pelvic symphysis. Your dog will probably spend several days in the hospital and will have to take stool softeners while the surgery site heals, until normal function is returned, a process that could take up to six months or more.
(Dr Diwakar Singh, BVSc & AH, runs Prabhat Pet Clinic in Lucknow while Savita Singh holds a degree in M Pharm).