why does it take so long for my dog to “go”?

Posted by Dr. Ernie Ward on Apr 15 2016
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Recently a pet parent asked me a somewhat sensitive question; their middle-aged Labradoodle had been taking longer to “go” than normal. Because this was asked over the Internet, I advised her to seek veterinary help quickly. For everyone else, I thought I’d share some of the common reasons that may cause your pooch to experience prolonged pooping.

When it’s normal

Sometimes pups are just picky poopers. They might take a while to sniff out a spot and spin around a couple of times before doing the deed. This behavior is so widespread that it’s been studied, and scientists concluded that the spinning is really the dog aligning himself along the earth’s north-south magnetic field. But if this behavior is new or unusual, or if your dog seems uncomfortable or the stool is concerning, it could be attributed to one of the following conditions.

Intestinal parasites

Whipworms, roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms are a few of the familiar canine intestinal parasites. These parasitic worms can cause cramping, irritation, itching around the anus, diarrhea or constipation, which can lead to straining or difficulty passing stools.

If you’re watching for worms, you’re more likely to spy tapeworms in the stools of adult dogs. Look closely, because they resemble tiny grains of rice. Less frequently, roundworms will appear and are easy to spot because they’re nearly identical to long strands of spaghetti. One of the first tests your veterinarian will conduct if your dog is taking longer to defecate is an intestinal parasite evaluation. Treatment is a simple anthelmintic (deworming medication).

Impacted or infected anal glands

The anal glands are two tiny scent sacs located at about the 4- and 8-o’clock position outside the anus of dogs and cats. Their job is to impart a pet’s unique identifying odor to feces and serve as a calling card to strangers. If these tiny glands become clogged or infected, they cause intense pain and discomfort, particularly when pooping. I’ve seen many dogs with anal sac pain develop a severe form of constipation called obstipation simply because it hurt too badly to go. Other symptoms of anal sac impaction include excessive licking or scooting along the floor or ground, blood or discharge from underneath the tail and a red, swollen bulge near the anus. If you suspect an anal sac problem, see your veterinarian immediately.

Enteritis or colitis

Enteritis refers to inflammation of the intestinal tract, usually the small intestine while colitis involves inflammation of the large intestine or colon. Enteritis and colitis can result from bacterial, viral or fungal infections, food poisoning and a wide variety of systemic diseases. The most common cause is dietary indiscretion, or what I affectionately refer to as “garbage can-itis.” If your dog eats something he shouldn’t and develops difficulty going potty, have it checked out.

Tumors and growths

While rare, tumors and growths can occur around the anus and inside the rectum. Cancer, especially anal sac adenocarcinoma, should be considered in older dogs with a history of abnormal defecation, especially straining, constipation and obstipation or bleeding. Another telltale sign of trouble I look for are ribbon-like stools that indicate feces are being forced around an internal mass. Your veterinarian will perform a thorough exam of the rectum and often order radiographs, ultrasound or MRI. Biopsy can help determine the prognosis and best treatment options for rectal or anal tumors.

Dietary causes

High- or low-fiber diets can occasionally create straining or prolonged pooping in certain dogs. Other ingredients can also affect your dog’s intestinal bacterial flora and result in changes in defecation habits. If you change diets and notice your dog straining or experiencing difficulty passing feces, contact your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will want to record and analyze the type of food to search for clues of underlying ingredient intolerances. By experimenting with different food formulations, ingredients, processing and brands, you can dial-in your dog’s optimal dietary preferences. Just as you listen to your own body, pay close attention to what your dog’s body – and stool – is telling you about his diet.

These are a few of the more common causes of prolonged defecation in dogs. If your dog has any changes in urination or defecation habits, notify your veterinarian immediately for help.