“How long can a dog go without pooping?” If you’re googling this, chances are good that you are worried about your dog’s bowel movements—or lack thereof. Integrative veterinarian Dr. Julie Buzby answers this question to help you know when to give it a bit more time and when to call your veterinarian.
Have you ever looked at your dog and realized that you haven’t seen him or her poop in awhile? Maybe he or she is usually a reliable twice-a-day pooper. And now you’re thinking that you haven’t seen him or her go since yesterday afternoon! What’s going on?
This is a common question asked at veterinary hospitals. Changes in the frequency of a dog’s bowel movements can sometimes indicate a problem. However, there are also plenty of reasons that dogs may skip a poop or two without it being a big deal.
How long can a dog go without pooping?
In most cases, healthy dogs without any underlying health conditions can go 48 hours without pooping (and sometimes longer) without any cause for serious concern. There’s no hard and fast rule, but many veterinarians will recommend an exam if your dog goes more than 48 to 72 hours without pooping. That way the vet can ensure there isn’t a medical condition that is keeping your dog from defecating normally.
How often do most dogs poop in a day?
In order to know whether your dog’s routine is normal, it may help to know that most dogs will poop between one and three times daily. However, there’s actually a wide range of “normal” values for this behavior. And a lot of factors contribute to how often a dog may defecate. You will want to consider the following factors when deciding if your dog’s bathroom habits are abnormal:
Eating and exercising
If you noticed that your dog usually poops after he or she eats, you’re not alone! Dogs most often have a bowel movement after eating a meal or exercising (such as going for a walk or run).
If your dog eats twice a day, it’s likely that he or she will also poop two times a day. Whereas if you only feed your dog once a day, he or she may just poop once. This means that changing your dog’s food or changing the feeding frequency can lead to changes in pooping frequency. Also, if your dog doesn’t eat much for a few days, he or she may not poop as often either.
Along the same lines, some dogs may poop on every walk (or multiple times on a walk). But other dogs will only poop on walks intermittently. It is good to know what is normal for your dog so that you can spot any changes in bowel habits.
It is common for dog parents to be concerned that their dog is constipated after surgery. However, less frequent bowel movements can be normal for a few days post-op.
Some of the medications the vet uses for anesthesia or pain management can slow or delay the passage of fecal matter through the GI tract. Because of this, it’s not uncommon for dogs to sometimes go two days without pooping.
Also, dogs are often a little sleepier than usual for a few days following surgery. This is good, since it allows their body time to rest and begin healing. But since physical activity is one of the stimuli for pooping, it can contribute to a delay in returning to the normal elimination schedule.
It is also common for dog parents to be especially clued into their dog’s bowel habits after their dog has diarrhea. Understandably, the dog parents may be dreading the next poop explosion. But then it doesn’t come, and they begin to wonder if their dog has gone too long without pooping.
The good news is that if your dog is recovering from parvo in dogs, pancreatitis in dogs, or other causes of diarrhea, you don’t need to be alarmed if your dog goes a few days without pooping.
The reason for this is that dogs with diarrhea will defecate more frequently. And they will have a larger fecal volume than normal. This can have the effect of emptying out the gastrointestinal tract. Once the diarrhea resolves, it typically takes several days for food to make its way through the 15 feet of intestines that lead from the stomach to the rectum.
When should you be worried your dog is actually constipated?
We just finished establishing that there are some normal or expected variations in pooping behavior. However, sometimes when a dog hasn’t pooped for a few days it can be a sign of a medical problem. Although it’s less common than diarrhea, dogs can also suffer from the opposite problem—constipation.
Symptoms of constipation in dogs
In addition to your dog going too long without pooping, you may also notice other signs of constipation such as:
- Passing small amounts of dry, hard feces
- Straining to defecate or difficulty passing stool
- Vocalizing (whining or crying) when trying to defecate or other signs your dog is in pain
- Decreased appetite
- Acting like a lethargic dog
If you notice these signs, it is best to make an appointment with your veterinarian. During the visit, the vet will use your dog’s medical history and physical exam findings to determine if your dog is actually constipated.
Constipation vs diarrhea
That may sound strange because it seems like knowing if your dog is constipated would be pretty straightforward. However, dog parents can easily mistake diarrhea for constipation in dogs. They see their dog frequently squatting and trying to poop, but nothing is coming out. It’s logical then to assume that the dog is constipated.
However, in many cases this straining (called tenesmus) is actually due to the inflamed or irritated intestines that go along with diarrhea. The dog may feel like he or she needs to pass additional stool even when the intestines are completely empty. As a result, he or she keeps posturing to defecate.
If the vet agrees that your dog is having some poop problems (diarrhea or constipation), he or she may recommend some diagnostics to get to the bottom of the issue.
Why do some dogs go too long without pooping?
Some of the more common causes of constipation that your vet might be looking for include:
- An enlarged prostate
- Kidney failure in dogs
- A mass in the colon or rectum
- Foreign material (rocks, fabric, bones, etc.) that is causing a GI obstruction
- Endocrine diseases such as hypothyroidism in dogs
- Low fiber content of the diet (which is a very common and easy-to-fix problem)
Diagnosis of constipation in dogs
To help rule out or rule in the various causes of constipation and assess the stool in general, the vet may perform the following tests:
- Digital rectal exam to assess stool consistency and feel for an enlarged prostate, masses, anal furunculosis in dogs, or other anatomic abnormalities that may cause narrowing the colon or rectum.
- X-rays to look for signs of an obstruction or blockage in the intestines, or to evaluate the severity of the constipation.
- Bloodwork to help rule out kidney and endocrine diseases.
- A fecal test for dogs to look for parasites or abnormal bacteria that may be causing stool changes.
Treatment for constipation in dogs
If it turns out that your dog is indeed struggling with constipation, there are several possible remedies your veterinarian may suggest. In cases of more serious constipation, the vet may hospitalize your dog for IV fluids and repeated enemas, laxatives, or stool softeners to soften dry stool and allow your dog to pass it.
In most cases though, dogs respond well to adding additional fluid and fiber to their diet. Plain canned pumpkin for dogs (not pumpkin pie filling) or plain Metamucil are good fiber sources. You can add them to your dog’s food as an easy home remedy to treat constipation. (Safety note: always double check that the product you choose does not contain the common artificial sweetener xylitol, which is toxic to dogs).
When adding fiber to the diet, it’s very important to also increase the amount of water your dog drinks. Fiber works by drawing extra fluid into the stool to soften it. This means that if enough water isn’t available, increased fiber can actually make constipation worse.
In addition to relieving the constipation itself, the vet will also want to address the underlying reason for the constipation (if one is present). Otherwise, it is more likely that constipation will continue to reoccur. The vet will also likely discuss some preventive measure to help keep your dog’s bowels regular.
Since every dog is a bit different, you should work with your vet to develop a constipation prevention plan that works for your pup. This may involve strategies like:
- Adding small amounts of plain pumpkin puree or plain bran cereal to your dog’s food. This additional fiber can bulk up the stool and make it easier to pass.
- Administering probiotic supplements, which are helpful for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome in many dogs.
- Ensuring your dog gets a healthy amount of exercise in the form of daily walks—even a very small dog can benefit from going on a walk.
- Giving your dog access to plenty of fresh drinking water.
- Using prescription options such as gastrointestinal support dog food and medications, which are helpful in cases of more chronic or severe constipation.
Watch for anal gland issues after constipation
I want to leave you with one more word of advice about constipation. Some dogs, after having a change in the frequency or consistency of their poop, will develop uncomfortably full anal glands. These glands are located just inside the rectum and contain a yellowish-brown fishy smelling liquid. Normally the act of defecation squeezes a bit of that liquid out each time. But this may not happen if your dog isn’t pooping regularly.
If your dog has full anal glands, you may notice your dog licking the base of the tail or scooting across carpet or grass to relieve the itching. You may also be wondering why your dog smells like fish. Left untreated, overly full anal glands can become impacted, inflamed or infected. This can be quite painful for your dog. If you are seeing any signs of anal gland issues, please contact your veterinarian.
Work with your veterinarian
It is a good idea to develop a baseline of what is “normal” for your dog’s bathroom habits. That way it will be easier for you to detect small changes. Also, remember that fiber intake, exercise, feeding frequency, diarrhea, and surgery or anesthesia can all affect how long your dog might go without pooping. However, in general most dogs shouldn’t go longer than 48 hours.
If you are worried that your furry friend may be constipated, give your veterinarian a call. He or she can help you determine if you should try some sort of a high fiber home remedy, give it a little time, or bring your dog in for an appointment. Hopefully, with a little help from your vet, your dog’s pooping schedule will be back to normal in no time.
Has your dog gone a long time without pooping in the past?
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