Why Does My Dog Have Hard and Dry Stools?

Dr. Ivana Crnec

If your dog has hard and dry stools, you may be wondering what can be the underlying cause for this change in your dog's stool appearance. Do dogs suffer from constipation in the same way that humans do? What can be done to soften stools? Veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec provides information about hard and dry stools in dogs.

Does your dog have hard and dry stools? You might be interested in knowing that normal dog poop may vary in size, but it comes in one universal shape. Under normal circumstances, the poop should be log-like (distinctively cylindrical) and it should not leave a mess when picked up. In a nutshell the perfect poop should have a Play-Dough consistency and hold its form without melting into the surrounding surface. 

Your Dog's Bristol Stool Chart

To accurately determine a dog's poop’s consistency, veterinarians use a numerical scoring system popularly known as "The Bristol Stool Chart." Namely, each consistency type is assigned a value from 1 to 7, (stool score 1 indicates hard and sturdy pellets and stool score 7 indicates a poop puddle). 

Dog Stool score 1 indicates constipation or poop that is extremely hard and dry. This type is usually expelled in the form of round, brittle and individual pellets. Its expulsion from the body requires significant effort. When picked up, it does not leave any residue on the ground.

Dog Stool score 2 is commonly nicknames as the ‘’Tootsie Roll Stool’’ and it means the poop is firm, but not hard. It is pliable with segmented appearance. Once picked up from the ground, it will leave little or no residue. The consistency of the score 2 poop is ideal for expressing the anal glands. Some veterinarian consider stool score 2 to be indicative of semi-constipation. However, most veterinarians consider this score 2 as the ideal and healthy dog poop so you want your dog to ideally have this stool.

Dog Stool score 3 has the ideal log-like appearance with little or no segmentation and visibly moist surface. When picked up, it holds and remains firm but leaves a visible residue on the ground. This is considered a healthy poop and in a healthy dog it should be seen more often than score 2. However, both scores are considered to be normal.

Dog Stool score 4 is very moist and soggy poop. It still has a distinctive log shape while on the ground, but when picked up, it loses its form and leaves a visible residue on the ground. Eating fruits and human foods often results in this type of poop. This is considered normal as long as it happens every now and then. If it occurs regularly, then it requires veterinary attention.

Dog Stool score 5 is a very moist poop, but the distinct shape is still retained. It presents in piles rather than in distinctive logs. When picked up it loses form and leaves residue. In otherwise healthy dogs, this poop can resolve quickly.

Dog Stool score 6 represents feces with defined texture but without defined shape. It can occur in piles or in distinctive spots. Picking this poop up is if not impossible but definitely hard, and once picked up, it definitely leaves substantial residues on the ground. 

Dog Stool Score 7 means watery poop puddle without shape and texture. Picking this poop up is definitely impossible – it needs to be wiped.

Why Does My Dog Have Hard and Dry Stools?

Some of the most common causes of constipation or hard and dry stools in dogs are listed below.  Often, hard and dry stools occur when the dog simply is not taking enough fluids. If a dog is just mildly dehydrated, water is drawn into the bloodstream from the colon and this process dries and hardens the feces.

A Matter of Diet

Dogs who are eating grass or plant material, hair, garbage, and other indigestible material may be prone to hard and dry stools. Another culprit may be, as already mentioned, a dog not drinking enough fluids

A Matter of Medication

Several medications are known to cause hard and dry stools in dogs. Here is a list: antihistamines (such as chlorpheniramine), antacids (such as aluminum hydroxide) , diuretics (such as furosemide) , anticancer drugs (such as vincristine) and kaolin-pectin (which is often given to dogs with diarrhea) .

A Matter of Medical Issues

Pain can cause dogs to hold it  sometimes and this hardens the stools. Examples of medical conditions know to cause painful defecation includes injury to the hips, pelvis or spine , wounds or infections around the anus , impacted or infected anal sacs .  Dehydration and problems associated with any fluid or electrolyte imbalance can play a number too. 

On top of this, several neurological issues may cause trouble because they affect the nerves that cause muscles in the dog's colon and rectum to contract and move stool through the intestines. Neurological issues include spinal cord diseases , megacolon and pelvic nerve damage.

Low thyroid levels may also cause changes in dog's stool consistency. 

A Matter of Changes 

Stress in a dog's life may inhibit his natural elimination habits. Environment-induced causes include changes in  the dog's routine, such as home change or hospitalization , unusual inactivity and lack of an acceptable toilet site . 

A Matter of Obstruction

Anything that blocks the regular transit can cause hard and dry stool in dogs which are difficult or even impossible to pass. Obstructive causes include perineal hernias (a specific type of hernia affecting the anus and rectum) , strictures , presence of foreign bodies, an enlarged prostate gland , tumors and pelvic fractures

Treatment for Dog Dry and Hard Stools

To treat constipation or hard and dry stools, soak dry food in an equal volume of water and leave it for 20 minutes for the water to be fully absorbed. This increases the dog’s fluid consumption.

You can use an osmotic laxative such as lactulose or a stimulant laxative such as senna, as instructed by your vet, or add a little cow’s milk to the diet, because this may act as a natural laxative (as most dogs are little lactose intolerant). Let your dog out frequently, to give it more chances to defecate. 

Your vet may administer an enema: do not try to give your dog an enema yourself. It should be noted that common phosphate enemas sold for humans may be toxic for a small dog’s kidneys.

Prevent your dog from eating indigestible material such as grass. Provide routine exercise, a digestible diet, and plenty of water. Consider feeding a commercially prepared food for older dogs that contains added fiber, or feed a high-fiber diet available through your vet. 

Alternatively, add bulk laxatives, such as unprocessed wheat bran and or a dietary fiber supplement, to your dog’s food (one to five teaspoons daily).

Mineral oil is an effective preventive, but can be dangerous. Never give it directly by mouth. Since it is tasteless, there is a risk that it may get into the windpipe causing aspiration pneumonia in dogs. Instead, mix it in once or twice a week with your dog’s food, using one tablespoon of mineral oil for every 65 lb (30 kg) of the dog’s weight. Do not use mineral oil more frequently than this because it can interfere with the intestinal absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

About the Author

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.

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