Difficulty Defecating in Dogs: Why Is My Dog Straining to Poop?

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

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

Difficulty Defecating in Dogs: Why Is My Dog Straining to Poop?

Don’t jump to conclusions if your dog straining to poop is the only clue.

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 proof, you have no proof at all.

Constipation versus diarrhea

Diarrhea is a more common cause of straining to defecate 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 elimination, but then he’d 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 significant intestinal diarrhea can look like the straining associated with constipation.

Constipation ramification

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 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.

Causes of constipation in dogs

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

Potential causes of constipation in dogs include:

  • inedible items e.g. dirt, grass, hair, bits of toys or fabric
  • fiber-deficient diet
  • dehydration
  • anal sack disease
  • prostate issues
  • matted hair
  • insufficient activity
  • orthopedic issues that make eliminating painful
  • tumors

Diet can affect how hard the stools are; when Cookie manages to overeat bone, parts of her stool 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 now and then when the constellation of things ends 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 the “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 incredible that neither of our dogs ever ended up with 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 pet health insurance for him. JD and Bruin routinely threw 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 the blockage, such as enlarged prostate in male dogs, rectal hernias, and, unfortunately, even cancer.

Infected anal glands, injuries, the use of certain drugs, and neurological problems can also 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 the reason for her occasional hard poops, 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 was 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.

Related articles:
What’s in the Poop?
Treating Dog Constipation at Home: Can You Help Your Constipated Dog?

Further reading:
Difficult Defecation and Blood in Stool in Dogs

Categories: Difficulty defecatingStraining to poopSymptoms

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Jana Rade edited by Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience. Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc is our wonderful sponsor and has been kind to edit and fact-check my important articles.

  1. Dog digestion is a bit of a minefield isn’t it? Thank you for such a clear post, it answered many of the questions I would be asking my vet.

  2. Great info cos since Layla is on bed rest she is having problems so have upped her fiber and thank goodness it seems to be working. I also realized it was from lack of exercise at the moment

  3. Great article! This is definitely all for Henry. He’s struggled with constipation since I adopted him. His original owners feed him human fast food and his gut has never been right. He’s finally not straining so much. But we’re still trying to find a good balance for him. It’s almost like you wrote this one for Henry. Really good and informative read. I’m sharing it with all my dog parents.

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