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Constipation

Constipation 

 
It’s one of the common clinic jokes, if it’s Friday late afternoon it must be time for the constipated dog to come in.

Constipation is a common problem in dogs. A study on diseases of working dogs showed that of 1024 visits to the vet that did not include trauma, 200 were related to the gastrointestinal tract, of which 51 were constipation. 5 of these dogs were either retired from work or euthanased as a result of their condition.
 
Constipation is defined as infrequent and difficult passage of excessively dry or hard faeces. It becomes progressively more severe if left untreated, until permanent changes occur to the colon and rectum, which are irreversible.
 
Constipation has a variety of causes, including:
  • Diet/environment: eg bones, foreign matter, low fibre diet
  • Painful defaecation: eg diseases of the anus, fracture of the pelvis
  • Mechanical obstruction: eg prostate gland enlargement, pelvic cancer, perineal hernia
  • Colonic muscle weakness: eg spinal cord injury
  • Severe dehydration
 
Of these, the most common ones we see in working dogs by a very long way are:
  • Diet: bones are notorious for causing constipation.
  • Dehydration: most constipated dogs are seriously dehydrated
  • Prostate enlargement: affects 95% of entire male dogs by 9 years of age.
 
Constipation makes a dog strain to pass faeces, sometimes pushing a little liquid out around the sides of the blockage, giving the false impression of diarrhoea. They can also vomit.
Untreated, constipation turns into obstipation, an intractable form that requires surgical correction.
 
Medical management involves rehydration with intravenous fluids, and the use of warm soapy enemas under heavy sedation or general anaesthetic. If you suspect your dog may be constipated, please do not delay bringing him in, it’s a lot easier to treat in the early stages than later on.
 
Prevention, however, is much easier than treatment
  • Stop feeding bones, especially lamb bones that tend to splinter into small pieces and block the rectum with a huge mass of bone. Not very easy getting these out the back door…
  • Castrate male dogs when they reach 1-2 years of age. This completely prevents benign enlargement of the prostate gland, but otherwise does not change the dog.
  • Feed a diet that has a low risk of causing constipation. A careful balance of dietary fibres is required, to provide enough for colonic function but not so much as to lower the digestibility of the diet. Eukanuba Premium Performance Diet is an ideal diet for the working dog, and will help prevent constipation.
 
Constipation: a nasty condition; easily prevented, not so easily treated, and not pleasant to do on a Friday evening when you’re heading out for the night. No matter how many gloves you wear, the scent of carnivore waste seems to penetrate…
 
Paul Eason BVM&S MANZCVS (Surgery; Emergency and Critical Care Medicine)