Constipation can be a common problem in dogs. Often, it is easily resolved but in some cases it can be severe. If the feces remains in the colon for a long time, it can become dry, hard and more difficult to pass as time passes. Obstipation is constipation that does not respond to treatment and the animal does not successfully pass feces. Long term constipation can be due to obstruction inside the intestines, constriction outside the intestines, or neuromuscular problems with the colon.
Obstruction is the most common cause and is related to poorly digestible, firm matter like hair or bones, becoming mixed with the fecal material. Other factors can contribute to dry, hard feces formation, such as reduced water intake, pain while defecating or reluctance to pass feces due to environmental stress. Constriction can be caused by compression on the colon or rectum. This can be caused by narrowing of the pelvic bone if the pelvis has been broken and does not heal properly. It may also be caused by an enlarged prostate gland. Some drugs can have constipation as a side effect.
The symptoms of constipation include straining to pass feces and passing firm, dry feces. If the dog has an enlarged prostate or lymph nodes, the feces can appear thin or ribbon like. The feces often has a foul odor. Some dogs can become very ill and show signs of lethargy, depression, vomiting, abdominal discomfort and appetite loss. The veterinarian will feel the abdomen and examine the rectum to confirm constipation. X-rays can help identify the cause, and may even show foreign matter like bone in the feces. Other tests may be required if the animal has long term constipation or obstipation. The owner will need to give a vet a detailed history which should include if the animal has a tendency to eat garbage, bones and other hard matter.
Dogs with constipation should be given plenty of water. If the animal has mild constipation, it may be treated by giving the animal a high fiber diet. The dog should be prevented from eating bones or other objects, have access to water and the owner may administer appropriate laxatives. Laxatives should be prescribed by a vet as human laxatives can be dangerous for animals. Laxatives should only be used for a short period of time. If the animal has severe constipation, the veterinarian can remove the feces, either with manual extraction or an enema. The dog will be under general anesthetic for this procedure. Removing all feces completely may take two or three attempts over several days.
Bloat is caused when the stomach twists and accumulates gas, either with or without fluid in the stomach. It is a life threatening condition. It usually affects large dogs with deep chests. Standard Poodles, Doberman Pinschers, Saint Bernards, Great Danes, Irish Setters, Gordon Setters, and German Shepherds are most often affected. Bloat can be triggered by stress and the risk increases with age.
Dogs aged between seven and ten are most commonly affected. It is common for bloat to occur in dogs who have eaten a large meal, exercised and repeatedly tried to vomit. The symptoms of bloat can include, rapid breathing, abdominal pain, repeated dry retching, excessive drooling, restlessness, apparent discomfort and abdominal swelling. The veterinarian may find a rapid and weak pulse, pale mucous membranes and other signs of shock upon examination. The animal can also develop an irregular heart rate. It is typical for x-rays to be used for diagnosis but other imaging techniques may also be used. Bloat needs to be diagnosed and treated quickly. If this is done, the animal has a good prognosis. The animal may be given intravenous fluids which can help counteract shock. The pressure in the stomach must be relieved as quickly as possible.
The veterinarian will put a tube into the stomach through the mouth which allows trapped gas. Excess food and fluid which may be present in the stomach can be removed by using gravity and suction. The stomach may be rinsed with warm water or saline which will remove any debris that remains. If the vet can not pass a tube into the stomach, the gas may need to be relieved by the insertion of a long, hollow needle and catheter into the stomach directly. This is done through the skin. The condition of the stomach and spleen may need to be assessed surgically. The stomach may be re-positioned to the normal location, and it may be attached to the abdominal wall, which may decrease the risk of it twisting again. This will be done through surgery.
Food will need to be withheld between twenty four and forty eight hours after surgery. It may be necessary for the vet to prescribe drugs to control the vomiting. Dogs that have a tendency to bloat may need to be fed smaller more frequent meals, instead of fewer, large meals. It is important to avoid excessive exercise. Doing this will decrease the risk of bloat. Large water intake should also be avoided after exercise to limit the distention of the stomach.