When the pipes are blocked...

Constipation in the working dog

Constipation is one of those diseases that may not seem too serious, but can turn into a severe and potentially debilitating problem.

It is seen most often in older un-neutered males as the prostate enlarges and starts to compress the large bowel; similarly, bitches that are prone to this problem seem to be more likely to get constipated when they come on heat and the uterus swells.

Dogs that are scavengers are also prone - nothing is better at blocking the bowel than mats of hair, wool and bone. Shards of bone can also perforate the bowel if the dog is constantly straining. This often leads to peritonitis (an inflammation/infection of the abdominal cavity), and in many cases, death.

‘Clean' dogs that won't toilet in their runs, and will hold on until they are let out can be repeat offenders, especially if they are dehydrated for any reason, eg if it's a hot day, or water supply fails.

Repeat episodes of constipation can lead to a condition known as megacolon - the colon becomes stretched, and fills up with more faeces than normal before it gets the signal to empty. Because fluid is normally reabsorbed from faeces by the colon, the longer the faeces are present, the drier and harder they become.

If you notice your dog straining to defecate without passing anything, try giving two tablespoons of cooking oil on some dog roll. If this hasn't helped within 4 hours, please ring us for an appointment so that you can bring your dog into the clinic as soon as possible.

Treatment involves IV fluids to ‘overhydrate' the body, enemas to soften and break up the faecal mass, and often a general anesthetic to manually remove the hardened faeces.

After a bout of constipation, it is very important to feed only a highly digestible diet so the faeces aren't so bulky. Normally we advise no bones at all. Notorious scavengers should wear a cage muzzle when they are let out.

Neutering or speying is also recommended for repeat offenders that have enlarged prostates or problems when they come on heat.

We have recently noticed another complicating factor in some dogs that come in with constipation - fused or broken tails. One case was in a 4-year old dog - too young to have any degree of arthritis. Some of these tails are unable to be lifted even to horizontal, and makes normal defecation difficult. Liken it to trying to squeeze through a door that won't open all the way. Trauma to the base of the tail is likely to be causing these changes - tails stood on by cattle or caught in gates for example. If anyone out there has any other ideas what might be damaging these tails, we would love to hear from you!