Dog: Constipation

General information

Other common/scientific names: fecal impaction, obstipation

The digestive system of the dog begins with the oral cavity and ends with the rectum. In between is the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, cecum and large intestine or colon. The colon’s main function is to absorb electrolytes and water and store feces for elimination through the rectum.

Constipation is a condition characterized by difficult or infrequent passing of stool. Fecal material becomes impacted in the colon. Constipation can lead to obstipation which is the complete inability to pass stool resulting in the entire colon and rectum being filled with fecal material. Obstipation can lead to permanent damage and megacolon.


Constipation can be caused by an intestinal disorder or secondary to an underlying disease. It is most commonly caused in dogs by indiscriminate eating of bones, plant material, dirt and stones. Lack of exercise and certain medications can cause constipation. Any condition that causes pain in the hind quarters or rectum or pressure on the colon such as prostate cancer, arthritis, hip dyplasia, infected anal glands, tumors or pelvic fractures can cause constipation.

Cardinal symptom

Straining to defecate


Clinical signs of constipation include straining to defecate, painful defecation and unproductive defecation. If stools are passed, they are usually hard and dry. However, constipated dogs can have diarrhea or liquid stools passing around a hard impaction. Prolonged or severe cases of constipation can cause lethargy, decreased appetite, dehydration, vomiting and bloody stools.


Diagnosis of constipation is usually made from clinical signs and physical examination. Abdominal radiographs can help determine the location of the impaction and the severity. If an underlying condition is suspected, additional laboratory tests should be performed to diagnose the cause of constipation.

Abb. GFTA7PZC: constipation, bone feces
This is a radiograph showing pieces of bone in the colon of a dog causing retained fecal material. The red arrows are pointing to the bone. An accumulation of gas is seen in front of the impaction causing abdominal pain.


Simple constipation can be treated by feeding fiber such as canned pumpkin or human fiber supplements. Oral stool softeners can be used. Some dogs will benefit from a mild enema. Treatment of recurring constipation will depend on the cause and may include diet change and long term medication.

Severe cases of constipation or obstipation will commonly require hospitalization and intravenous and electrolyte therapy. Heavy sedation may be needed for manual evacuation of the fecal material. If medical treatment is unsuccessful, general anesthesia and colon surgery may be necessary.


The prognosis for simple constipation is good. Most dogs respond well to treatment. However, recurring or prolonged constipation may be an indication of a serious disease requiring intensive treatment or possibly surgery. Permanent damage to the colon may result.


All dogs should have clean, fresh water available to prevent dehydration and keep stools soft. Feeding a good quality diet and exercise at the same time each day can prevent intestinal irregularities. Keeping your dog free from endoparasites by regular deworming is recommended.


Even mild cases of constipation should have veterinary supervision. Never give any supplements without first consulting your veterinarian. Enemas should be administered by your veterinarian since they can cause discomfort and complications if given incorrectly.

Update version: 4/24/2014, © Copyright by
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