Constipation Cures for Canines

Did You Know
Chronic constipation may be caused by eating large amounts of foreign material such as grass, paper, bone chips, cloth and cellulose.

Constipation Cures for Canines

Constipation in dogs can be an easily treatable condition or a symptom of a more serious condition. And curing constipation depends on the kind of constipation a dog has. In general terms, constipation is the inability to evacuate the bowel. This results in a build-up of feces that gets drier and harder as the water it contains is absorbed by the colon.


Chronic constipation may be caused by eating large amounts of foreign material such as grass, paper, bone chips, cloth and cellulose. It can also be the result of inappropriate diets, for example, low-fiber or high-meat, or giving your dog cooked or small bones that splinter easily, then cement together and get stuck in the colon. This can actually lead to fecal impaction, a more serious matter. Another cause of chronic constipation is simply not getting enough exercise, which can slow down the elimination process.


One common treatment for constipation is an enema, usually done under light anesthesia or sedation by a veterinarian. It can also be done at home, with great care, by the more adventurous, using 1 ounce of over-the-counter Fleet enema fluid per 10 lbs body weight, according to Delbert G. Carlson, DVM and James M. Giffin, MD in “The Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook.” They add that a tap water enema is effective for grass-induced constipation. It consists of a rubber catheter connected to the enema bag, with a lubricated tip, inserted so that the rectum retains fluid (2 or 3 inches.)

Holistic veterinarian Richard Pitcairn in his book “Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats” recommends a natural anti-constipation diet of fresh veggies (pumpkins, squash, and celery are particularly effective) and raw meat. Adding bran to each meal (1/2 to 1 tsp) to hold more moisture in the colon may also do the trick. Another choice is powdered psyllium seed (¼ to 2 tsp with meals), or mineral oil on a short-term basis for a large fecal buildup (½ tsp to 2 tsp to food twice a day for no more than a week). Mineral oil should not be used longer than that because it removes vitamin A from the body and the dog may become dependent on it for elimination. Milk of magnesia (½ to 2 tbsp a day) may also be used. Another simple constipation cure is increased exercise, which will massage internal organs and increase blood flow in the colon.


Establishing an elimination schedule is a good idea, particularly for an older dog with constipation. Senior dogs tend to be constipated because of reduced bowel activity and abdominal weakness. An older male dog may have an additional problem: an enlarged prostate that can impede rectal activity and cause constipation. There may be hernias in the rectal area (called perineal hernias) that weaken the muscles supporting the rectum, leading to constipation. Soaking the dog’s kibble with water or feeding the dog canned food, which contains more moisture, might do the trick in these cases.


A common type of constipation is voluntary retention, which results when a dog isn’t taken out enough to defecate and he learns to hold onto it. This often happens with puppies who are being house-trained as well as with adult dogs who don’t get to go outside enough. The cure for voluntary retention is to make sure the dog has the opportunity to go out and do his business several times a day. You might also consider a mild laxative when traveling if he does not like to go when he’s away from home.


More serious causes of constipation are mechanical strictures and cancers. In these cases, a low residue or bland diet is best, according to Carlson. You can also soak the dog’s food with equal parts of water and use a stool softener and mineral oil.

Damaged nerves caused by slipped discs and low back malformations can result in a loss of the urge to defecate. Treatment for this type of constipation includes enemas, laxatives, and/or a change of diet, as with chronic constipation.

A fairly rare cause of constipation is aluminum poisoning. Some dogs react adversely to aluminum, which is found in pet food cans, pet dishes, white flour, tap water, table salt, and processed cheese. It leads to weak rectal muscles, straining, and sticky and messy rather than dry stools. The cure is eliminating aluminum exposure and administering high-dose vitamin C and zinc, according to Dr. Pitcairn.

One of the more exotic causes for constipation are the screw tails on Boston Terriers and Bulldogs. These often feature a rigid tail extension extending down upon the anal canal. The only cure for the constipation  caused by this anatomical anomaly is surgical correction.


My dog Shu, a chow chow, has suffered from a condition called false constipation (pseudoconstipation), a form of voluntary retention that may cause anal inflammation. It’s very common in long-haired dogs. The stool mats in the hair around the anus, creating a mechanical plug and a really bad smell. If the feces are not removed promptly, they will continue building up and the anal skin can become irritated. The cure is to groom the hair around the anus and clip away the matted stool. Having done this for Shu a number of times over the years, I can testify that it’s not a fun job, and you may need help from another family member to hold the dog still so you don’t inadvertently cut the skin. It’s best to wear latex gloves. A topical antibiotic ointment for serious skin irritation may also be needed.


Herbs that have been found to be helpful in curing constipation when used along with conventional treatment, according to holistic vet Shawn Messonnier, DVM, are chickweed, dandelion root, slippery elm, Oregon grape, and yellow dock. There are also homeopathic remedies for constipation, including Nux vomica and Silicea. For more about homeopathic treatment, consult Dr. Pitcairn’s book or a homeopath in your area.