Small Dog Constipation Symptoms and Treatment
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Constipation is not necessarily more common in small dog breeds, but the dog's size can be a factor in having trouble pooping. While it may be relatively frequent in small animals, it doesn't mean that constipation can be ignored. It can be a symptom of a more serious health concern. At the very least, it will cause discomfort to the dog, something that can progress to become very painful the longer the constipation lasts.
AnimalWised looks at small dog constipation symptoms and treatment to help you recognize when constipation occurs and what you can do to help relieve them. We focus specifically on how this issue affects small dog breeds.
What is constipation in small dogs?
As with dogs of any size, small dog constipation is a gastrointestinal disorder which makes it difficult to evacuate the bowels. The stools are usually harder than normal, something which slows gastrointestinal transit. Gastrointestinal dysmotility is when the muscles and nerves used for digestive transit do not function correctly. This can affect different parts of the digestive system, but is known as slow transit constipation when it affects the intestines.
The duration of this constipation can vary significantly. It is also possible for the dog to defecate a little, but still be constipated in other areas of their gastrointestinal system. Significant factors affecting the rate of constipation include breed, exercise, immunity and general health.
While constipation broadly refers to inaction in the digestive tract, it has many causes. Typically, most dogs relieve themselves once a day. There can be great variability from one dog to another, as some defecate several times a day and others as little as once every two days. To determine if a dog is constipated, we need to chart the time between bowel movements and compare it to their normal toilet behavior.
This means there is no standard period which can determine a dog is constipated. However, if any dog hasn't defecated for a 72 hour period, we can say they are constipated. We will need to look for other behaviors and symptoms to confirm this, as well as help us to determine the underlying cause. This is something which will need to be confirmed by a veterinary professional.
Despite being considered a minor problem in people, constipation in small breed dogs is often considered a medical emergency. Although constipation is not necessarily more common in small dog breeds, the repercussions on their health are often more acute. The rate of mortality is also increased compared to larger dogs. This is due to gastrointestinal dysmotility being more critical in smaller animals.
Why are small breed dogs more likely to suffer from constipation?
Constipation in dogs is a process that can affect any canine. However, it is more common in some breeds with a genetic predisposition to suffer from diseases that can lead to constipation. These include smaller breeds such as the English Bulldog and the Boston Terrier. This is because certain problems in the sacrum have more heritability in these breeds.
The size of a dog can indirectly affect the likelihood of constipation based on several factors related to their anatomy, physiology and dietary needs. The following are reasons a dog's size can influence constipation:
- Digestive system length: digested food can travel more quickly through a smaller dog's digestive tract compared to larger breeds. This leaves less time for water absorption in the colon. In some cases, this rapid transit can lead to softer stools, but it can also result in an increased risk of constipation due to inadequate water absorption.
- Dietary differences: smaller dogs may have different dietary requirements or sensitivities than larger dogs. If they are not provided with an appropriate diet tailored to their size and breed, it can contribute to constipation.
- Exercise: smaller dog breeds often have higher energy levels relative to their size. They may require more exercise. Exercise can help stimulate bowel movements, so a lack of physical activity can increase the risk of constipation.
- Hydration: smaller dogs have smaller bodies. This means may require less water to maintain proper hydration. Inadequate water intake can lead to firmer stools, making them more difficult to pass, potentially causing constipation.
- Age and aging: smaller dog breeds tend to have longer lifespans and may experience age-related changes in their digestive systems. As dogs age, they may become more prone to constipation due to decreased motility in the digestive tract.
- Intestinal lumen: although small and large breed dogs normally have the same proportion of intestine, the intestinal lumen decreases. This is the total surface area of the tubular structures of the intestines. For this reason, foreign bodies such as bones or toys may become trapped more easily. The metabolism of small dogs is faster than that of large dogs in many cases, so digestion is faster.
In addition to the above, people who live with small breed dogs usually encourage a more sedentary lifestyle due to the popular belief that small dogs do not need to exercise as much. This is a serious mistake, since all dogs need to go outside to walk, play and exercise. A sedentary lifestyle negatively affects intestinal movement and promotes the development of constipation.
Causes of constipation in small breed dogs
The main causes of constipation in small breed dogs are multiple and varying. In addition to those mentioned in the previous section, the most common causes of constipation in small dogs are the following:
- Propulsion problems: due to pain, the act of defecating is inhibited. Some of the processes that may be related to this pain include pelvic fracture, anal sac injuries problems and perianal fistulae in dogs. Learn more with our article on why a dog has a lump near their anus.
- Evacuation problems: these are often related to obstructions. Obstructions can be intraluminal, i.e. inside the intestine. They are usually related to the ingestion of foreign bodies, consumption of bones, fecaliths, granuloma, polyp, neoplasia, perineal hernia, diverticula and cicatricial strictures. Extraluminal obstructions are related to structures that compress the intestine from the outside, such as an increase in prostate size, poorly welded pelvic fracture, anal sac injuries, increase in the size of lymph nodes and tumors.
- Metabolic problems: dehydration and hyper/hypocalcemia can be related to constipation.
- Neurological problems: some pathologies such as problems in the sacrum, cauda equina, pelvic nerve injury and Chagas disease can promote the appearance of constipation. These types of neurological problems are more common in older dogs.
- Medications: certain drugs such as opioids, antacids, anticholinergics, antiepileptics, bismuth salts, diuretics, iron and sucralfate are related to a lower frequency of defecation.
- Diet: it is very important to ensure we provide the best diet for our dog. If any type of homemade food with a very low proportion of fiber is given or water is not available, the animal can quickly see its evacuation frequency reduced.
- Megacolon: this is the abnormal dilation of the colon which can be acute, chronic or toxic. It is diagnosed by exclusion of the other causes of constipation in small dogs.
Hemorrhoids in dogs do not cause constipation. However, the strain which the dog uses to try to eliminate hard stools can often cause dogs to develop hemorrhoids.
Small dog constipation symptoms
The main symptom of constipation in small breed dogs is a reduction in the number of the animal's bowel movements. In most cases, there are usually other associated symptoms such as:
- Lack of appetite
It is often common to observe the animal making exaggerated efforts to evacuate without getting a response. Sexually intact males (those that have not been neutered) are more likely to have constipation due to an increase in the size of the prostate. This is commonly associated with the male's sex hormones.
Small dog constipation treatment
Before treatment can be administered, it is important to know the underlying cause of the small dog constipation. A medical history will determine predisposing factors for constipation. These include a low-fiber diet, sacral problems, or using a certain medication. Examining the animal in depth is essential to find signs of obstruction. Finally, rectal palpation, as well as radiography, are key to knowing the patient's condition.
Once the problem is determined by the veterinarian, treatment focuses on facilitating the animal's defecation. To do this, enemas and laxatives are often the first aid used to manage this symptom:
- Enemas: enemas of warm water and chlorhexidine are sufficient in many cases.
- Laxatives: usually a laxative based on sodium sulfosuccinate.
- Oils: if it is a recurring or chronic constipation, paraffin or lactulose oils can be used occasionally.
Any of these treatments must be prescribed by the veterinarian, who will also determine if any medication is necessary depending on the cause. These are only treatment for the symptom of constipation. The underlying cause will need its specific treatment to prevent relapse.
We will learn more in the next section, but it is also important to consider a soft diet for dogs with constipation.
Home remedies for constipation in small dogs
The best home treatment for constipation in dogs is dietary. Diet can play a fundamental role in avoiding relapses. A feed formulated with a high amount of fiber may be sufficient. However, if the dog is already used to homemade food and refuses to eat it, the main objective will be to increase the proportion of fiber in each meal. Some of the foods that we can add to achieve this are the following:
- Brown rice
- Pulped beets
We strongly recommend consulting a veterinarian specialized in canine nutrition to prepare a completely balanced homemade diet for your dog. As we have seen, in some cases the cause of constipation in small breed dogs is a poorly formulated diet. It is important to follow professional advice and consider other issues such as kidney disease which will need to be taken into consideration to ensure the dog's health.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to Small Dog Constipation Symptoms and Treatment, we recommend you visit our Intestinal problems category.
1. Whitehead, K., Cortes, Y., & Eirmann, L. (2016). Gastrointestinal dysmotility disorders in critically ill dogs and cats. Journal of veterinary emergency and critical care (San Antonio, Tex.: 2001), 26(2), 234–253. https://doi.org/10.1111/vec.12449