Thursday, April 26, 2018

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Straining to Poop/Difficulty Defecating

If your dog is straining to defecate, it's merely constipation, isn't it? Not so fast.

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Straining to Poop/Difficulty Defecating

Constipation does make evacuating stool difficult, but it is far from the only reason that can make your dog strain to defecate.

If your dog straining to poop is the only inkling, don't jump to conclusions.


Do you have any hard evidence? Yeah, I stooped to a cheesy pun. But I mean it. Do you? Unless you have unusually hard poops as a proof, you have no proof at all.

Diarrhea is more common than constipation.


But diarrhea means lots of runny poop coming out all over the place, doesn't it? Yes and no.

When JD would eat something naughty, he'd get visible diarrhea for one or two goes but then he'd just keep going and straining with very little or nothing coming out. Was he constipated? No. But his bowel was so irritated that he felt like he had to keep trying to get relief.

That's why the straining associated with large intestinal diarrhea can look like the straining associated with constipation.

Constipation can become a serious problem.


The longer the poop stays in your dog's colon, the harder it becomes and the harder it will be to pass. If enough poop backs up, it can stretch your dog's intestine to the point it will become unable to do its job -- a condition called obstipation. The colon normally contracts to move the poop toward the exit. But at some point, the colon simply won't be able to contract well enough to move the poop out. With severe constipation or obstipation, your dog will probably end up having to be hospitalized, and the loss of colonic function can make problems defecating a recurring or permanent problem.

Constipation may or may not have anything to do with your dog's diet.


Diet can affect how hard the stools are; when Cookie manages to eat too much bone, parts of her stool do get hard. Insufficient fiber or water intake can also cause hard stools. Because Cookie loves her bones, I offset that by increasing her fiber intake. She does get enough water both from her food and drinking. It's only every now and then when the constellation of things end up with the odd hard poop.

Jasmine would get constipated during periods of restricted exercise; after surgeries or during recovery from injury. Lack of exercise can also be a factor leading to constipation. In Jasmine's case, on top of everything, her intestines were on a "lazy side" due to her IBD. It was up to us to do our best to keep things moving.

Other factors, even stress, can end up messing with healthy elimination.

Watch out for gastrointestinal blockages/obstructions.


Given the range of weird things they managed to have eaten, it is amazing that neither of our dogs ever ended up with an intestinal obstruction. That includes accidentally swallowed sock, sticks, rocks, pieces of toys and other things that seemed edible at the time. JD's inclination to stuff himself with horse poop, grass, and sticks was why I got a pet health insurance for him. Both JD and Bruin would routinely throw up lumps of such debris the morning after a day at a horse farm.

An obstruction can be partial or complete, and symptoms depend on where in the GI tract the obstruction is. Symptoms can include an inability to produce poop, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, weight loss, dehydration, and shock.

Don't fool yourself; such a problem might require surgery and can be life-threatening.

Not every obstruction might be your dog's fault.


There are medical conditions that can cause blockage such as enlarged prostate in male dogs, rectal hernias, and, unfortunately, even cancer.

Infected anal glands, injuries, the use of certain types of drugs, and neurological problems all too can result in difficulty defecating.

Your dog straining to poop might be an emergency or a serious medical issue.


How quickly your dog needs to see a vet depends on how badly they look. Is there pain? Vomiting? Lethargy? Then they need medical help quickly.

While I might, such as with Cookie where I know what the reason for her occasional hard poops is, add some fiber to her food, I would never even consider randomly experimenting with human laxatives, enemas or mineral oil. Especially if I didn't know for sure what is going on. Being sure is a tricky business. One of hubby's favorite lines is, "I know you're sure but are you right?" He doesn't say that to me, of course, I'm never sure unless I'm right.

Do you know what your dog is telling you about their health?


Learn how to detect and interpret the signs of a potential problem.


Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog now available in paperback and Kindle. Each chapter includes notes on when it is an emergency.

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog is an award-winning guide to help you better understand what your dog is telling you about their health and how to best advocate for them. 

Learn how to see and how to think about changes in your dog’s appearance, habits, and behavior. Some signs that might not trigger your concern can be important indicators that your dog needs to see a veterinarian right away. Other symptoms, while hard to miss, such as diarrhea, vomiting, or limping, are easy to spot but can have a laundry list of potential causes, some of them serious or even life-threatening. 

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog is a dog health advocacy guide 101. It covers a variety of common symptoms, including when each of them might be an emergency. 

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog has won the following awards:

24 comments

  1. Observing our pets closely is vital to keeping them healthy and happy. I know our Tucker had bowl obstructions that required two hospitalizations and now that we know what to look for, we have been able to keep him healthy and "regular".
    Anita, Purrsonal Assistant to The Tribe of Five

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    1. Obstructions can be quite dangerous and yes, require hospitalization. I'm glad Tucker is ok.

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  2. I actually discussed this with my vet when Layla did not poop for 2 days after being sick and he told me not to panic as she would when she needed to go and thank goodness it all sorted itself out but I do keep an eye on all just in case. I always say I would rather be safe than sorry

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    1. There are exceptions, such as after surgeries (fasting, anesthesia), being sick (diarrhea, vomiting) ... the belly is likely empty and/or the motility is lower.

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  3. Red has issues on occasion with diarrhea as a result of pancreatitis. I can't say she's ever had a problem with constipation but Jack has had a couple of instances and they were association with the anal glad problems he tends to have. Thanks for calling attention to how dangerous these conditions can be.

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    1. Yes, "true" constipation is quite rare in dogs.

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  4. I have to watch Mr. N's bone intake so this doesn't happen. It's usually not a problem but his food already has bone in it so if he gets a RWB, I try to give him some boneless meat.

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    1. Yes, when Cookie eats a bit too much bone, her poop gets hard and/or crumbly. She didn't really have constipation in the sense of not going to poop, just the poop is sometimes too hard or too hard. I do my best to keep things in balance but now and then it doesn't work out perfectly.

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  5. This is so true diarrhea is more common but constipation is also an issue. Diet is so important as well as giving probiotics. Thanks for making awareness about this.

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    1. Yes, either is an issue. The most important thing is to know what is really going on rather than jumping to conclusions.

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  6. I didn't know diarrhea is more common than constipation in dogs. It's important to be observant when it comes to your pets health because you'll be better able to recognize something out of the norm and address it right away. I agree, don't assume it's nothing because many times serious ailments have subtle signs.

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    1. Far more common, actually. If people try to treat what they consider with fiber, it is likely to work both ways. But trying to take some more drastic measures to treat constipation which is really a constipation could be quite dangerous.

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  7. Phoebe used to strain to poop. I started adding a tsp of pumpkin to her morning meal and it solved the issue. She just needed more fiber. Thanks for this helpful information!
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

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    1. Yes, sometimes it's just a question of more fiber.

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  8. It's so important to look for signs in our pups and consult a vet before trying any medicines. I always watch Bonnie's stools after she eats bully sticks to make sure they aren't too loose! Thanks for a really helpful and in-depth article!

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    1. The problem people often don't realize that there are some many potential causes for any one symptom ... where would they even start trying to "self-diagnose" their dog?

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  9. I learned a new word "obstipation." Exercise certainly helps prevent back ups from the routine. Everyone should be aware of how often their pet is pooping and what it is all about.

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    1. Yes. It was very obvious how the motility slowed for Jasmine when she couldn't go for her regular walks after surgeries or during recoveries when she was restricted.

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  10. You can tell so much about your dog's health by their poop. This is why it's so important to pick up after your dog regularly and pay attention to possible warning signs that something is wrong. Great post

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    1. Yes. Even if you don't want to pick up your dog's poop for the rest of the world, do so for your dog's sake.

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  11. Wonderful post and a great reminder that you can learn a lot about your pet by their poop. My mom is a nurse and she has always kept a close eye on my bowel habits. It sounds gross but very important.

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    1. Well, gross--some pups find it good enough to eat LOL Matter of adjustment ;-) Lots of useful information in the stuffs that leave the body.

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  12. I honestly thought Truffle was constipated because I would see some liquid poo on her backend and she kept going into the litter box. I knew something wasn't right, so I rushed her to the vet. That's when I discovered she had bladder stones. One must truly keep an eye on their fur children for any changes in bathroom behavior.

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    1. Indeed, it is important to keep one's eyes open and avoid jumping to conclusions.

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