Learn what commonly causes constipation, if home remedies work, and when to see a vet.
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Woman walking her dog in a park with a city skyline in the background, hoping to help her pet relieve his constipation with movement
Credit: Grace Canaan

Like in people, dogs can sometimes have trouble passing stool. And, it can get awfully uncomfortable. Even worse? Dog constipation intensifies the longer it goes on, says Julio Lopez, DVM, a board-certified veterinary internist and VetScoop correspondent. That's because as the stool sits in the colon (large intestine), it continues to dry out and becomes harder, which makes it increasingly difficult to pass.

But says Lopez, constipation in dogs isn't that common. "A lot of pet parents see their dogs straining to go with nothing coming out and think it's constipation. But actually, it's often diarrhea, which causes irritation and a sensation of needing to go even when there's nothing to push out." Read on to determine if your dog truly has constipation and, if so, what to do to help your pup feel better.

What Causes Dog Constipation?

Several things can make it difficult for dogs to poop including:

Inedible Items

News to no one: Dogs eat weird things. Many of our canine friends have a habit of swallowing inedible, everyday objects that can land them in the emergency room (think: socks, toys, rubber bands, and rocks). As these items move along the digestive tract, they can get stuck in the colon and stop up your pup.

Consuming kitty litter or sand can also make it hard to push stool out, says Lopez. "Living on the West Coast, I've seen dogs that were constipated because of ingesting sand from playing on the beach—just from grabbing a ball or frisbee from the sand multiple times."

Dietary Problems

Eating pure protein with no fiber can lead to constipation in some pets too, Lopez says. And according to the American Kennel Club, too much dietary calcium—from chewed-up bones or bone meal—can be a source of constipation.

Partial Pooping

Constipation is more common in senior dogs, especially if they have severe arthritis that makes it painful for them to crouch while pooping. They might cut their bowel movement short and not fully evacuate everything. The stool that remains inside the colon becomes drier and harder and blocks the colon.

Tumors

When something blocks the movement of poop through the colon, it's not usually from within the colon itself, Lopez explains. It's typically caused by something pressing in on the colon in the surrounding area. For example, in male dogs the colon could become blocked by an enlarged or cancerous prostate. Tumors of the anal glands and lymph nodes can also press in on the colon.

Dog Constipation Symptoms

Most dogs poop at least once a day, according to VCA Animal Hospitals. So if your dog hasn't gone in one or two days, he may be constipated. Other signs your dog is having trouble pooping include:

  • Straining to go several times a day
  • Producing hard clumps of stool
  • Scooting butt along the ground
  • Whining or yelping while trying to go

If you're concerned about dog constipation, contact your veterinarian for the next steps. A discussion with your vet—who knows your pet's age and health condition—will help determine if it's something you can treat at-home (like constipation caused by dietary issues) or if your pet needs an exam to rule out other, more serious causes of constipation.

What to Give Your Dog for Constipation

There are a lot of home remedies for constipation in people, so it's natural to seek these out for your pup too. However, Lopez says, most of these popular health hacks don't work.

Pumpkin

"One of the most commonly used home remedies for dog constipation is canned pumpkin," Lopez reports. "Most pet parents feed their dogs a few tablespoons of it. But in order for it to be effective, your dog would have to eat a few cans of pumpkin."

Since dogs should stick to a nutritionally balanced diet, multiple cans of pumpkin would not contribute to that goal. As a general rule, treats should be kept to a maximum of 10 percent or less of a dog's diet. A 10-pound dog needs about 200 to 275 calories per day according to Pet Obesity Prevention, meaning only 20 to 27 calories can come from a treat like pumpkin. At about 49 calories per cup, a small 10-pound dog could only eat about 1/4 of a can of pumpkin before reaching the treat limit for the whole day.

Milk

Milk can cause diarrhea in dogs. Perhaps that's the reasoning behind why some people think it'll counteract constipation. But usually, it doesn't end up doing the trick, Lopez says.

Coconut Oil

The concept behind using coconut oil is that it'll make stool oiler, which will help it slide out. The problem? It won't affect the poop that's already stuck, although it may help stool that comes along later. However, more than a tablespoon or two of coconut oil (depending on your dog's size) can be a risk for pancreatitis and diarrhea, so consult your vet before trying this or any other home remedy.

Get Exercise

According to Bond Vet, the colon can be stimulated by physical activity. Going for regular walks, playing games like fetch, or taking your pup to their favorite dog park could help encourage a bowel movement.

Over-the-Counter Medications

Reach out to your veterinarian to determine if using over-the-counter medications for dog constipation is an option for your pet. It'll depend on how long the problem has been going on, how painful it is for your pet, and the age of your canine.

"A veterinarian sorts through a lot of variables to make a decision on whether it's safe to treat constipation at home, and what exactly to give, or if the patient needs to come in," Lopez says.

Veterinary Treatment for Dog Constipation

Pets that are constipated often need the assistance of a veterinarian to get things going again. Vets treat constipation in dogs in a few different ways, depending on the severity. Medications, like laxatives, may be enough to do the job. But in more serious cases, your pet may need anesthesia so that the vet can massage the colon through the abdomen to break apart the stool or to administer an enema (an injection of fluid into the colon that stimulates the release of stool).

"With constipation, the longer it continues, the more difficult it is to treat," Lopez explains. "So if you think your pet is constipated, it's always best to deal with it sooner." Don't delay in getting your four-legged friend back on track. You and your pup will feel so much better once his load is lightened.