Constipation in the Dog and How Raw Helps

Constipation, if you look it up in the Oxford Languages dictionary, is ‘a condition in which there is difficulty in emptying the bowels, usually associated with hardened faeces’. Interesting! Therefore today, we’re looking at reasons the kibble fed dog might get hard faeces (stools) and how real raw food can help.

There Are Many Conditions That Look Like Constipation

Some dogs might have other problems that look like constipation but are not. For example, suppose a dog has a sore lower back. In that case, they won’t be able to crouch sufficient to ‘evacuate’ their bowel cleanly and may just give up trying. Another condition known as ‘megacolon’ is where the last part of the bowel loses tone and becomes more like a bag than a tube. Faecal material just builds up. Male dogs, if their prostate is very enlarged, can find it hard to pass stool normally. If the dog has had damage to the spinal cord through trauma or tumour, for example, sensations may not get to and from the rectal and anal area, causing a stool build-up. Just for the record, other common causes of constipation, when listed, include worms, lack of exercise, side-effects of medicines, stress and anxiety, matted coat across the anus, tumours, kidney disease, hypothyroidism and hernias.

We’re not going to look at any of these causes, but it’s interesting to see how many conditions impact the gut’s flow. Let’s assume for this blog we have a ‘normal’ healthy adult dog of about 20kg, eating kibble, who frequently struggles to pass hard stools.

Kibble is Too Dry and the Dog Becomes Dehydrated

Kibble, those oh-so-convenient bland brown biscuits that everyone feeds, are not appropriate for dogs, in my opinion. There are two main reasons the biscuits are potentially harmful when it comes to constipation. The first reason is that they are dry – about 90-93% dry material, to be technical – which means the dog, which has evolved to eat moist food (think rabbits, horse-poo and chunks of meat or viscera), just doesn’t drink enough to keep up with the dehydrating effect of the food. This means the dog spends much of the day dehydrated, which obviously contributes to constipation.

Inappropriate Microbiomes

The second reason kibble can cause constipation is by encouraging an inappropriate microbiome – encouraging a non-healthy mix of gut bugs. Dogs were never meant to eat low quality and quantity meat meal combined with starchy carbs, sprayed with palatants, fats and synthetic minerals and vitamins every day for life. They were meant to hunt, scavenge or starve – and they did so quite successfully for 45 million years before kibble came along!

Ok – I’m not a fan of kibble, obviously, but if you’ve got a dog prone to constipation who’s still eating kibble, you now have two good reasons to consider changing to raw.

Constipation and the Raw Fed Dog

Obviously, if our 20kg friend above went raw, there would be a massive bonus to the gut to be immediately more hydrated with the moist raw food. The gut bugs, too, have a chance to re-order themselves to become more balanced to a more species-appropriate diet. That’s a fantastic start, but there’s much more to it than that.

A perfect raw food diet will have just enough bone material in it. Bone comes from minces or from chewing, so-called ‘recreational’ bones. Most dogs do well on about 10% of the total weight of the diet as bone. Some dogs require a little more, say 15%, some a little less. If you talk to your raw food supplier, they will guide you to find the sweet spot. Your dog is getting just enough bone to produce a good firm stool that is easy to pass with only a little effort in this ‘Cinderella’ bone proportion.

Bone content is balanced (and here trial and error works well) against 10-20% vegetable matter, usually chopped or blitzed greens. Having some greens in the diet, as well as providing hundreds of medicinal ‘phytonutrients’, eases through the more bony stools by fluffing them out with indigestible plant matter. A very happy balance between animal, vegetable and mineral nutrition, as it happens.

Supplements to Help Constipation

If you have a kibble fed dog and they’re getting constipated, change to raw. If you have a raw fed dog and they get a bit bunged-up, talk to your raw food supplier or a knowledgeable raw feeder. If you’re concerned, talk to a raw feeding vet.

If you’ve spoken to knowledgeable people and just want a few tools in the toolbox to help with occasional constipation, even after you’ve found the best level of bone, consider psyllium husk, marshmallow root powder, slippery elm and probiotics.

Psyllium husk is a flaky bran-like powder that turns into a wallpaper paste consistency when wet. If added to the diet, it just swells, gets slippy and helps lubricate the stool on the way out. It’s cheap and easy and can be a total game changer! Add half to one teaspoon per meal, discontinue after a few days.

Marshmallow root is a powdered herb that his pre-biotic (it feeds gut bugs). It is a little anti-inflammatory and antioxidant but has a gentle lubricating effect on the stool, too. Slippery elm is similar. Both are used for constipation or diarrhoea. Much of the slippery elm on the market is from unsustainable sources, so to be avoided.

Probiotics can help, too. They seed good bugs into the gut. If you continue to feed kibble, probiotics can improve the bugs, but they’ll never be right because the foods passing through are species-inappropriate.

Opportunity

If your dog is getting constipated more than you’d like, it’s an opportunity to move from kibble to raw. If you’re feeding raw, it’s a chance to improve the diet even further. As they say – go with the flow.

Nick Thompson

BSc (Hons) Path Sci., BVM&S, VetMFHom, MRCVS. Founding President of the Raw Feeding Veterinary Society. Petplan Vet of the Year Nominee 2009, 2015, 2017, 2018 & 2020. The practice of the Year Nominee 2018.

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