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Understanding the Causes and Treatments for Straining to Defecate in Dogs

As veterinarians, we frequently present with dogs constipated and straining to defecate. This can be a distressing situation for the pet and its owner, and it is essential to understand the potential causes and treatments to guarantee the most beneficial result. This article will provide an overview of common causes of straining to defecate in dogs and some possible treatments that may help alleviate this condition.

What is Straining to Defecate? 

Straining to defecate is a common problem in dogs and can be seen in young and old animals. In general, straining is defined as an intense effort made by the dog to pass feces during defecation. This effort may include vocalization or obvious discomfort, as well as an inability to pass any stool despite seemingly trying. In addition, straining can often lead to constipation, a condition wherein feces become hardened and difficult to pass due to lack of moisture or exercise. 

Common Causes 

There are several potential causes for straining in dogs, many of which can be addressed relatively quickly once the underlying cause is identified. Some of the more common causes include: 

Dietary Issues: Dogs that eat a diet high in fat or poor-quality proteins may struggle with digestion, leading to straining during defecation. Additionally, insufficient water or fiber intake can contribute to constipation due to a lack of moisture or food bulk needed for healthy stool formation. 

Inadequate Exercise: Lack of regular physical activity can cause decreased intestinal motility and lead to constipation-related straining during defecation. 

Stress: Stressful situations such as changes in environment or routine can affect normal digestion, leading to constipation-related straining during defecation. 

Parasites: Intestinal parasites such as roundworms or whipworms can interfere with normal digestion and cause excessive straining during defecation. 

Diseases: Various gastrointestinal tract diseases, such as colitis or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), can result in increased fecal hardness and difficulty passing it without straining. 


Depending on the underlying cause, may use several treatments in conjunction with or in combination with each other to relieve straining during defecation in dogs. Some potential treatments include: 

 • Dietary Changes: Providing a high-fiber diet with adequate hydration may help improve stool consistency and reduce straining during defecation. Additionally, switching from a high-fat diet to one containing lean protein sources may help improve digestion and reduce straining while eliminating waste products from the body.  

 • Increased Exercise: Regular exercise helps stimulate intestinal motility and helps prevent constipation-related issues by encouraging regular elimination habits.

 • Stress Reduction: Decreasing stressful situations such as changes in environment or routine may help improve digestive health by reducing anxiety levels associated with elimination habits. Additionally, providing plenty of opportunities for mental stimulation through activities such as puzzle toys may help reduce overall stress levels that could interfere with normal digestion processes.  

 • Parasite Control: Regular deworming protocols should be established for all pets to control parasite infestations that could cause digestive issues resulting in excessive straining during elimination processes. 

 • Medical Intervention: In cases where dietary changes or deworming protocols have not been effective at improving stool consistency or reducing instances of excessive strain during elimination processes, more aggressive medical interventions such as medications used for colitis/IBD management may be necessary to achieve lasting relief from this condition.  


Straining during defecation is a common problem experienced by many dogs, but understanding the potential causes and treatment options available can help ensure that your pet receives prompt relief from this uncomfortable condition. By making dietary changes where appropriate (such as increasing fiber intake), providing regular exercise opportunities, reducing stress levels where possible, controlling parasites through standard deworming protocols, and considering medical intervention when needed, most cases of excessive strain related to elimination should respond quickly and positively when appropriately managed by an experienced veterinarian familiar with these cases.

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