As discussed by Dr. Shawn Messonnier in his book titled “Natural Health Bible for Dogs and Cats”, constipation (obstipation, megacolon), often suspected by pet parents but in fact, rarely diagnosed, occurs when the pet is unable to properly evacuate his bowels. As a result, the feces remain in the colon where water from the fecal material continues to be absorbed by the colon. The fecal matter dries out and forms a hard mass. While constipation can occur in dogs, usually as a result of eating large amounts of foreign materials, true constipation usually occurs in cats.
Cats can develop an unusual form of constipation or obstipation 1 (severe constipation) called megacolon. In this disorder of unknown cause, the colon loses its ability to effectively contract and cause voiding of faeces.
The main natural treatments are designed to induce normal bowel movements. These can be used in conjunction with conventional therapies when they are not effective by themselves. The natural treatments are widely used with variable degrees of success but have not thoroughly investigated and proven at this time.
Natural diets recommended for pets with obesity, specifically those with national laxatives such as fibrous vegetables like pumpkin and squashes, are recommended for cats with constipation as well.
What Causes Constipation?
As stated by Dr Becker in her article on the topic 2, there are many potential causes of constipation. They all fall into one of three categories as follows:
- Inter-luminal causes involve partial or complete obstruction on the inside of the colon, brought on by ingestion of matter than can’t be digested, as well as tumours.
- Extra-luminal causes occur outside the colon and contribute to obstructive constipation, for example, a narrowed pelvis resulting from a pelvic fracture, or tumours growing in the pelvic cavity that compress the bowel from the outside.
- Intrinsic causes are neuromuscular in nature and can result from pelvic or lumbar nerve injury or diseases like hypothyroidism or hypercalcemia.
A partial list of causes includes:
- Dehydration, not enough dietary fibre, lack of exercise;
- Swallowing a foreign object like a piece of cloth, part of a shoe, or rocks;
- Intestinal obstruction, including tumours;
- Neuromuscular disorders involving abnormalities or injury to the nerves or muscles of the colon;
- Infected anal glands or a hip or pelvic injury that causes pain during defecation;
- The effects of surgery, some medications, and iron supplements;
- Stress brought on by a change in routine or surroundings.
One of the most frequent causes of constipation in dogs is dehydration. If you suspect you’re your fur kid is constipated or you’ve noticed dry, hard stools when he / she’s able to go, it’s important to monitor her water intake.
If your normally healthy dog develops constipation that doesn’t resolve in a day or two, it’s smart to be concerned. There are potentially life-threatening causes of constipation in canines, so it’s important to keep a close eye on a constipated pet and seek medical help if things don’t improve quickly.
If your dog’s constipation resolves in a day or two but recurs, again, it’s time to see your veterinarian. A recurrence indicates the problem may be more complicated and require either medical intervention or permanent changes to your dog’s diet or lifestyle.
A dog with obstipation will be extremely uncomfortable and try often but unsuccessfully to poop. Without intervention, he will lose his appetite, become lethargic and begin to vomit.
Depending on the severity of the situation, intervention can mean IV fluids for hydration and an enema to clear the colon — or it can mean the dog must be fully anesthetized for a manual cleanout. Often, a second round is required to remove stool that was packed into inaccessible areas of the bowel during the first procedure.
In intractable cases, surgery may be necessary. A colectomy is an operation in which part of the bowel is removed and / or bowel abnormalities are corrected. This option is typically used in cases of obstipation caused by an injury to the colon, a neuromuscular disorder, tumours or pelvic disorders that impact the colon.
Tips for Pups that Can’t Poop
These recommendations are intended for dogs that are experiencing a minor, transient bout of constipation. If your pet’s condition is ongoing or chronic, or if you aren’t sure of the cause, your best option is to call your vet for guidance.
- Digestive enzymes and probiotics. Both these supplements will help with mal-digestion, which is often the cause of intermittent bouts of constipation as well as diarrhoea. We recommend natural liquid probiotics for this purpose.
- Plenty of exercise; plenty of clean, fresh drinking water. The bodies of all animals need to move to keep things moving, including stool through the colon. Regular physical activity and adequate amounts of fresh, clean drinking water can prevent or remedy doggy constipation.
- Additional dietary fibre. In the wild, the fur on a dog’s
prey provides fibre in his diet. Needless to say, domesticated dogs
don’t get a lot of fur in their meals! Good sources of fibre for your
fur kids include:
- Psyllium husk powder
- Ground dark green leafy veggies
- Coconut fibre
- Cooked pumpkin, sweet potato or butter nut
- Organic apple cider vinegar (ACV). Organic ACV is a bit of a natural wonder drug, in that it can alleviate a wide variety of conditions in both people and pets. It is well known to improve digestion, including relieving constipation.
- Aloe juice (not the topical gel)
As with most conditions, the most healthful natural diet will improve the pet’s overall health.
Principal Natural Solutions
When feeding your fur kids raw bone meals, such as whole chicken wings, whole chicken carcass, whole chicken necks and pork bones, the smaller the breed, the higher the opportunity for constipation.
For small breeds, like our Boston’s, we have to plan their raw bony meals and keep a portion cooked (steamed) sweet potato or butternut in the fridge to food as part of the days fooding schedule. We will typically food the raw meaty bones over weekends when we can supervise them, food the bones in the morning, and then mix the steamed sweet potato or butternut into the dinner meal.
There are herbal treatments available as well when sweet potato, pumpkin or butternut is in short supply:
- Slippery Elm is the best herb for treating constipation or diarrhoea. It is a soothing nutritive herb that coats and soothes the digestive tract and intestinal walls. This herb also provides mucilage that can reduce irritation of intestinal tissues, and help maintain regular elimination patterns.
- Chickweed is also a safe herb useful for its soothing and lubricating properties. While recommended to assist in the treatment of constipation, it may also be useful for control hairballs.
- Dandelion is known as the herbal electrolyte. It is useful of its ability to stimulate the liver, as a diuretic, and for its anti-inflammatory properties. Dandelion also assist pets with constipation. Be sure to feed only the true medicinal Dandelion “Taraxacum officinale”, and not the indigenous sub-species which grows throughout Southern Africa in paddocks and along roadsides. The sub-species has a flat rosette of leaves that grow close to the ground, whereas the true medicinal Dandelion “Taraxacum officinale” has soft leaves that grow upward away from the ground, with long and thin individual flower stems. The sub-species is toxic and can cause a string-halt type of lameness if eaten too much.
Supporting Natural Solutions
- Chickweed, dandelion root, Oregon grape, slippery elm, yellow dock
Additional Articles and Videos
Good reference articles & videos further reading available at:
- Dr Karen Becker – Your Pet’s Elimination Habits: What’s Normal and What’s Not? (Mercola);
Dr Karen Becker discuss Feline Constipation Symptoms & Treatment
Dr. Karen Becker Discusses Megacolon
References and Research
- 1.Defarges A. Constipation and Obstipation in Small Animals. MSD. 2000. https://www.msdvetmanual.com/digestive-system/diseases-of-the-stomach-and-intestines-in-small-animals/constipation-and-obstipation-in-small-animals.
- 2.Becker K. Your Pet’s Elimination Habits: What’s Normal and What’s Not? Mercola. https://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2010/11/11/constipation-in-pet-dogs.aspx. Published November 11, 2010.