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Helping Your Constipated Bulldog Without a Vet Visit (And 9 Methods to Avoid the Problem)

Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He works mostly with dogs and exotic animals.

Bulldogs are the breed most likely to become constipated and sometimes can be helped without a visit to the vet.

Bulldogs are the breed most likely to become constipated and sometimes can be helped without a visit to the vet.

Why Do Bulldogs Become Constipated More Often Than Other Breeds?

Although English Bulldogs are one of the three breeds most likely to develop constipation problems, along with Boston Terriers and German Shepherds, French Bulldogs have become more common, and they are also seen with this problem a lot.

There are several genetic reasons that English Bulldogs are more likely to have problems:

  • Abnormal pelvic conformation: The abnormal pelvis is the reason that bulldogs are almost always born by cesarian section. The pelvis is narrow and large or hard stool is not able to pass.
  • Difficulty squatting: This is another side effect of the bulldog conformation. Not all dogs have this problem, but if your bulldog finds it painful to squat he or she will do so less often.
  • Obesity: Any dog breed can become obese but this problem can be a lot more severe in a bulldog. The excessive fat will line the pelvis and make it even more narrow, aggravating the already abnormal anatomy.
  • Nerve or spinal disease: This has not yet been proven but is a possibility. Bulldogs may have a problem with innervation to their lower bowels, and both English and French bulldogs can be struck with the spinal disease IVDD. IVDD usually causes dogs to have loose stools or become incontinent but constipation is a possibility.

There are other situations that can cause constipation in all dogs:

  • Eating trash or other junk: Paper, food containers, cooked bones, toys, kitty litter, hair, and about anything else you can imagine can all be eaten by your dog. None of them pass normally, and when it is painful to do so your bulldog can become constipated.
  • Diet: Table scraps are okay to give to an active dog, but if your bulldog is sedentary, then the low fiber in processed bread and noodles can really make his problems worse.
  • Age: As dogs age, they are more likely to become constipated. This may be related to the dog´s lower activity level or it may be because the bowel is less active than it once was.
  • Activity level: Exercise stimulates bowel function and bulldogs that are in crates or just lie around all day when their owners are at work are more likely to develop problems. They are a low-energy breed and need to be taken for a walk to keep slim and stimulate their bowels at least a few times a day.
  • Dehydration: Dogs usually drink just fine without needing to be encouraged but if there is a medical problem, dehydration will aggravate any likelihood to become constipated.
  • Swollen anal glands: When it is painful to defecate the dog will go as little as possible.
  • Stress: Changes around the household (or traveling) may make a dog less likely to defecate and develop constipation.
  • Internal organ diseases: Kidney disease is usually the number one organ disease that can lead to constipation, but dogs with hypothyroidism can be affected too.
  • Parasites: Although not usually a cause of constipation, roundworms and hookworms can cause the bowel to be inflamed and function less effectively.
  • Medicine and surgery: Drugs (opiates, antihistamines, and some cancer drugs), cancer of the pelvic canal or GI system, a swollen prostate, as well as some surgery can also cause your dog to become constipated.
French Bulldogs may suffer as often as English Bulldogs.

French Bulldogs may suffer as often as English Bulldogs.

Easy Treatment Options

Even if your Bulldog is obese or has anatomic issues that have led to his or her constipation, the first step is to take care of the problem. If you are able to take your dog to the vet do so since they can palpate the abdomen and do x-rays or an ultrasound to find out how to treat it. If you cannot here are a few medications and other treatments you can try:

Check the Anal Glands

Take a look at your dog. If you do not know where the anal sacs are located find a diagram on a site like VIN or youtube and check to see if they are swollen. The anal glands may need to be expressed since if they are inflamed it is painful for your bulldog to defecate. Most people choose to take their dogs to a vet to have this done but if you do not have one available many groomers also perform this task.

Give Coconut Oil

Instead of just giving mineral oil, it is preferable to give your dog coconut oil because of the probable anti-inflammatory properties in the colon. The oil will lubricate the intestine and the stool and aid in passing but will also treat the inflammation in the bowel, something that can be serious if your dog has been eating bones or kitty litter which will irritate his colon. Coconut oil may also treat some bowel infections that are contributing to your dog´s constipation, and can be given at 1 to three tablespoons in the food, depending on the dog´s weight. (Unlike mineral oil, which if given too often must always be given, this oil can be stopped at any time. The usual side effect is loose stools, which is not a problem for a dog with constipation).

Feed Pumpkin

This may have some effect on mildly constipated bulldogs because the fiber tends to draw water and it may actually make the stool a little softer. You can give a small dog one tablespoon mixed with his food, a medium-sized dog 5 tablespoons, and a large dog about 8 tablespoons. If the dog is still not defecating that evening or the next morning try other steps. (If you do not have fresh pumpkin around purchase the canned product, not pumpkin pie filling which contains spices and other products that may be poisonous. There is also a dried pumpkin that you can sprinkle on your dog´s food.)

Treat for Parasites

Although it is preferable that you take a stool sample to your vet and have your dog checked for worms, this is not always possible. Many over-the-counter dewormers are now available for dogs. Check the label for the dewormer and make sure it treats roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms.

Use a Stool Softener

Although some dogs do okay with just a stool softener like pumpkin, others need another product like lactulose. This synthetic sugar draws water into the colon to soften the stool and is given several times per day. There are several different formulas and strengths available but a large dog like the English Bulldog needs about 5 milliliters so a small bottle will only be good for about 3 treatments. Another stool softener that may be available from your pharmacy is propylene glycol 3350, sold under the brand name Miralax in the US. An English Bulldog will get about one-half a teaspoon in the food twice a day. You can try it but some vets think it is more effective in avoiding the formation of hard stools, not to soften those already present.

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Add a Laxative

It is best to avoid long-term use of laxatives, but if you have to give one at the moment there are several good options. The best, in my opinion, is just milk. It may not always work but it is easy to give and if you do not give more than a small bowl it will not cause diarrhea. Ginger is another way that you can stimulate the bowel to move and the most common recipe is made up of just one-quarter teaspoon mixed with half a cup of chicken broth. It tastes good so it is easy to give. A commercial laxative that is very effective is basically that is even easier to give is just vaseline and cod liver oil. Most dogs enjoy the taste so it is easy to give as often as needed.

Administer an Enema

This can help some dogs that are still having problems despite other things tried; the main problem is dogs with attitude. If your bulldog is easy to handle, you can purchase a Pet-ema or give plain saline and lactulose but never use a Fleet enema or any of the other brands made for people. It will kill a Frenchie and if you have an English Bulldog he or she will be very sick and may die.

If nothing works, and your dog goes on in this uncomfortable situation, he absolutely needs further medical care.

There are usually several causes of constipation, including obesity and lack of activity.

There are usually several causes of constipation, including obesity and lack of activity.

Avoiding Constipation

If this is your bulldog's first bout of constipation, try the following nine suggestions.

1. Provide More Water

Most dogs will drink enough to not become constipated but have you ever thought about why your dog is attracted to the water in the bathroom? It is cool and freely moving, something that you can imitate with a ceramic water fountain. Even for dogs with skin allergies, a ceramic water fountain is not going to irritate the skin and almost all dogs are attracted to the moving water. Dogs that drink more are less likely to become constipated.

2. Increase Exercise and Ability to Defecate

This means taking your dog on a walk at least twice a day, and moving for at least half an hour so that he or she can stimulate the bowels. No time in the mornings? Get up a little earlier. If you cannot do so because of long hours at work hire a dog walking service. It may seem like an expensive option but when compared to the costs of treatment, and the suffering of your dog, it will be a lot less expensive.

3. Do Not Give Bread, Noodles, or Chips

Many of the table scraps people give to their dogs can cause problems so one tip I give bulldog families is to buy a pack of non-flavored natural yogurt when going to the grocery store. If you sit on the couch and eat chips, your bulldog will probably beg. Give a spoon of yogurt instead of one of your chips. The bacteria is good for his or her bowel and the milk product acts as a natural laxative.

4. Control Your Bulldog´s Weight

Obesity is one of the contributing factors to constipation in all dogs and I think it is more severe in bulldogs because of their narrow pelvis relative to their size. More fiber in the diet makes your dog feel full and walking at least twice is going to help, as well as not giving any table scraps when he or she begs. Read this article on 7 exercise tips if you want more ideas.

5. Keep Your Dog Out of the Trash and Away From Food Wrappers

This should be obvious but too many bulldog households are lax about leaving their takeout containers and other wrappers out where the dog has access. Trash cans need to have a lid that a dog cannot get into and if you are throwing away things like bones be extra careful.

6. Change Their Diet

Fiber will make your dog´s stool larger and softer, thus even for a bulldog with a narrow pelvic canal, they will be easier to pass. There are a lot of opinions about the correct amount of fiber to add to regular dog food, as they contain about 2 to 4 percent and the foods labeled as "high fiber" can get that label if they contain more than 5%. Some vets use pumpkin while others feel that only by changing the diet can fiber intake be increased enough to make a difference. Fiber sources like oatmeal and finely ground bran might help but many do not act as stool softeners, just increase the bulk of the stool.

7. Give Treats That Do Not Bind up Your Dog

Instead of giving your dog some dry commercial treat when he or she performs a trick or comes when called, use a natural moist treat like whole figs. You can also give his pumpkin chunks in this way since most dogs like the taste. (Be sure to remember the calories in his or her treats so that your dog does not become obese.)

8. Use Pumpkin

This older treatment is a great method of providing extra fiber to a dog that is not getting enough in his or her diet. It is not a treatment so much as a means of prevention, so if your dog has been constipated in the past but is doing okay at the moment you can give anywhere from one to three chunks or tablespoons per day.

9. Give Daily Supplements

Most supplements are an attempt to increase your dog´s fiber intake when he is on normal food (products similar to psyllium, sold in the US as Metamucil).

If your dog has this problem all of the time it is best to take him to be evaluated by your vet, but if you cannot he can be put on polyethylene glycol 3350 (Miralax) or even docusate sodium (Colace), a less effective stool softener that has more side effects.

There are also a lot of natural supplements available now since companies can sell them without going through FDA approval. They may or may not help, so the best thing to do is use the suggestions listed above.

Exercise and weight loss are the best things you can do to assure that your Bulldog does not become constipated again.

Exercise and weight loss are the best things you can do to assure that your Bulldog does not become constipated again.

Long-Term Prognosis if the Problem Continues

There are drugs available called prokinetics that can cause your bulldog´s bowel to work more effectively. The most likely to help is called cisapride but it is no longer available for humans and must be made up by a compounding pharmacy that will need a prescription from your vet. If you are not in the US, you still might be able to get it over the counter or find tegaserod, another prokinetic.

If the high fiber diet change is not effective you may want to put your dog on a low residue diet. This type of food contains little fiber, is available from most veterinarians, and is similar to a raw diet that is mostly meat and egg protein. Low residue diets are one of the last things you should try if your dog has chronic constipation.

When this problem is not dealt with, it is possible that your bulldog can develop megacolon because of damaged nerves to the colon, an inflamed wall of the colon, and permanent loss of elasticity because of being distended for too long. If that happens, and the stool is not able to be voided and just builds up again, surgery is the only option. It is not a good choice because it can be risky and the dog will need special care for the rest of their life.

This is a very general dog training video, but if your bulldog needs more encouragement to go when out for his walks, be sure to take a moment and institute these tips.

References

Dimski DS. Constipation: pathophysiology, diagnostic approach, and treatment. Semin Vet Med Surg Small Anim. 1989 Aug;4(3):247-54. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2697927/

Nicolas Granger, Natasha J. Olby, Yvette S. Nout-Lomas, Bladder and Bowel Management in Dogs With Spinal Cord Injury, Front. Vet. Sci., 11 November 2020. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2020.583342/full

Hall JA, Washabau RJ. Diagnosis and treatment of gastric motility disorders. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 1999;29(2):377.

Yeap SK, Beh BK, Ali NM, Yusof HM, Ho WY, Koh SP, Alitheen NB, Long K. Antistress and antioxidant effects of virgin coconut oil, Exp Ther Med. 2015 Jan;9(1):39-42. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25452773/

Oh HG, Lee HY, Seo MY, Kang YR, Kim JH, Park JW, Kim OJ, Back HI, Kim SY, Oh MR, Park SH, Kim MG, Jeon JY, Hwang MH, Shin SJ, Chae SW. Effects of Ficus carica paste on constipation induced by a high-protein feed and movement restriction in beagles. Lab Anim Res. 2011 Dec;27(4):275-81.
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22232635/

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

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