A constipated dog or cat exhibits infrequent or difficult evacuation of the feces or stool. The feces is usually hard and dry which increases straining and reduces stool volume.
Many things may cause constipation, but the most common are dietary and environmental factors.
Fiber in the diet is important for normal defecation in dogs and cats, just as it is for humans. Insufficient dietary fiber can cause constipation.
Substances such as hair, bones or foreign materials ingested by a cat or dog can form hard masses or concretions when mixed with feces and cannot be eliminated, resulting in constipation.
Water is essential to proper gastrointestinal function; therefore, if an animal is deprived of water, it will become constipated.
Changes which affect an animal's daily routine such as a hospital stay or lack of exercise can also result in constipation.
There may be many other causes of constipation such as those listed below:
To treat your pet for constipation, the underlying cause must first be determined.
Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination of your pet and will ask you about your pet's medical history, its diet and its daily routine. Blood tests, x-rays or other tests may also be necessary and will be explained to you prior to testing.
If it is determined that the underlying cause is due to disease or trauma, medical treatment may be necessary to correct the problem.
Diets rich in fiber can be used to aid in the management of constipation in pets as in humans. The fiber increases water retention in the intestines which softens the stool. The increased bulk also increases the propulsive movements of the intestine, helping to alleviate the constipation.
Managing your pet's care at home is an important part of its treatment. It is essential you follow your veterinarian's instructions. If you have any questions about your pet's medical care, please do not hesitate to ask. Your questions are welcomed by the hospital staff.
Diarrhea in a dog or cat is characterized by abnormally frequent, watery stools. Clinical signs associated with diarrhea include frequency of evacuation of loose feces which results in an increase in the volume of feces passed. The diarrheal feces contains not only increased amounts of water and electrolytes, but may also contain mucus, blood, fat or undigested food.
Diarrhea can originate from the small intestine or the large intestine (colitis) and is further subclassified as acute (sudden onset of brief duration) or chronic (long-term). (See Colitis for a discussion of that condition.)
Acute Diarrhea - Small
Acute diarrhea originating in the small intestine usually lasts less that 48 hours. The feces seldom contains mucus, but it is not uncommon to find blood in the feces. The animal usually loses its appetite or is anorexic. The feces is brown or reddish-brown in color. The animal exhibits a sense of urgency to defecate as well as an increased frequency and may continue straining after defecation.
Chronic Diarrhea - Small
Chronic diarrhea originating in the small intestine lasts 7-10 days or longer. The animal passes a large volume of watery feces and has bowel movements two or three times as often as its normal frequency. The feces is brown in color unless there is blood in the stool in which case it will have a black, tarry appearance. Little or no mucus is present in the feces (as opposed to Colitis which may have much mucus in the diarrhea).
The causes of diarrhea vary widely, but include bacteria, viruses, internal parasites and stress-induced factors. Diarrhea may also be caused by toxic substances which the animal ingests or by food allergies. A change in pet food, eating table scraps or rich snacks, or scavenging spoiled food from garbage may result in diarrhea as well. Organ dysfunction, especially the liver and pancreas, can cause diarrhea.
Diarrhea caused by internal parasites may be a continuous, chronic problem or be intermittent with a normal stool being passed between abnormal stools. Some parasites causing diarrhea in dogs and cats are transferable to humans. Therefore, it is important to identify the parasitic causes.
It is important to note that young animals may be more severely affected by diarrhea than mature animals. Puppies should be carefully observed because their condition could quickly become life-threatening.
However, it is important to differentiate between non-specific diarrhea and diarrhea caused by a more serious health problem.
To treat your pet for diarrhea, your veterinarian must first diagnose the underlying cause.
Initially, your veterinarian will perform a physical examination of your pet and will ask you question about its health history and its diet and daily routine. Often the diagnosis can be made from the health history and physical exam and a treatment can be prescribed.
It may be necessary to withhold all food from your pet for one or two days. The more severe the intestinal disturbance, the longer the period the food must be withheld. Continue to give your pet water during the fasting period.
If your pet is severely dehydrated, intravenous (IV) fluids may be necessary before any diagnostic studies are begun.
Your veterinarian may ask you to collect a fecal sample for microscopic examination to help diagnose the cause of the diarrhea. You will be given a plastic bag or container and instructed on how to obtain a fresh stool sample. Numerous fecal exams or rechecks may be necessary to detect internal parasites which can show up intermittently in the feces.
In some cases of chronic diarrhea, a biopsy is necessary. This procedure involves obtaining a very small section of tissue from the intestine for microscopic study. This can be done through a small incision in the abdomen and involves only a few stitches to close.
The diet for small intestinal diarrhea should provide a moderate amount of highly-digestible protein from cottage cheese, chicken and egg, and not more than 15 percent fat. Carbohydrates should be easily digestible such as those from rice or dextrose.
Avoid diets with the following ingredients: wheat middlings, bran, and other cereal by-products; lactose (milk sugar) and foods containing more than 10 percent sucrose (table sugar). Do not give your pet bones, snacks or table scraps which may irritate the intestinal tract.
Watch your pet at home - checking for recurrent bouts of diarrhea, blood or mucus in the feces, foreign material in the feces, and frequency of defecation. If any of these signs recur or if your pet becomes weak or loses its appetite, please call your veterinarian.
Managing your pet's care at home is an important part of its treatment. It is essential that you follow your veterinarian's instructions. If you have any questions about your pet's medical care, please do not hesitate to ask your veterinary staff.