The act of defecating may vary somewhat in terms of how long it takes your dog to complete the act and how much effort is required to do so. Any time your dog must actually strain to produce a bowel movement, you should take the time to try and figure out why. Reasons could include the presence of an intestinal obstruction or foreign body, gastroenteritis, intestinal masses, cramping, impacted or infected anal sacs, intussusceptions, hernias, or something simple like diarrhea or constipation.
What to Look For
If your dog is in the unenviable position of crouching unsuccessfully in repeated attempts to defecate, the first thing to do is to get a good look at her anus and the surrounding area. There is no reason to feel embarrassed or shy about this! Check for anything that looks abnormal, such as asymmetry of the opening itself or the surrounding tissues. Look for bulging or redness of the regions adjacent to the anus or protrusion of tissue from its edges.
What to Do
Now, ask yourself the following questions:
Has your dog recently been suffering from diarrhea? If your dog is straining to defecate after a recent bout of diarrhea, it should not surprise you. A bland, reduced quantity diet may solve the problem, but if your dog continues to strain for more than two days, seek your veterinarian's counsel. (See “My Dog Is Pooping Everywhere” on for information on a bland diet.)
Does your dog often chew or swallow things she shouldn't? Dogs that habitually steal inedible objects and chew or swallow them are prone to suffering from intestinal obstructions. Your dog's straining could be an attempt to pass such an object. Unfortunately, there is little you can do other than offer food, liquids, or even a lubricant type of laxative, such as cod liver oil.
Did you notice anything protruding from your dog's anus? If so, try to identify exactly what it is. If it is something you feel confident won't cause any trauma on the way out, don your rubber gloves, use some K-Y jelly to lubricate the area around the object, and grasp it firmly. Have someone else distract your dog while you slowly and gently withdraw the item. Have plenty of paper toweling or other absorbent material nearby, since there may be a quantity of semi-formed to liquid feces trapped behind the obstruction, waiting to squirt out! If you cannot identify the protruding object or material, it is best left to your veterinarian to figure out, but be sure to do so immediately.
Did you see blood in your dog's rectal region? Bleeding from the rectum when you have already noticed your dog straining is a serious sign. See “My Dog Is Bleeding from His Anus” [not available online]. Always seek veterinary advice in such cases.
Does there appear to be bulging in the five o'clock and/or seven o'clock regions of your dog's anus? This suggests that your dog may have full, impacted, or infected anal sacs. While some owners are willing to attempt to solve this problem at home, your dog's vet is really the one to handle this responsibility. If you wish to try, see “How to Empty Your Dog's Anal Sacs” [not available online]. If you are successful, look at the material that you have expressed from the anal sacs. If it is viscous and tan like motor oil, that is normal. If it is yellowish and creamy to cheesy, with or without blood, the sacs are infected and need treatment by your veterinarian. If the material is dark brown to black and shiny, almost metallic in appearance, it means that the sacs have been impacted for quite some time and should be monitored closely by both you and your vet for future problems.
When was your dog's last normal bowel movement? If you realize, in the midst of being concerned about your dog's unsuccessful attempts to defecate, that it has been two days or more since your dog's last normal bowel movement, it is wise to at least have a conversation with your veterinarian. If your dog also looks or acts depressed or lethargic during this time period, get her in to the vet right away.
How to Get Your Dog to Defecate
Laxatives are often an effective way to help your dog in her efforts to eliminate. They vary in their ease of use and their methods of accomplishing their goal. The lubricant types - such as petroleum jelly and cod liver oil - work by simply coating the gastro-intestinal surfaces, allowing material to “slide through” a bit more easily. The bulk laxatives - such as Metamucil, raw bran, and Lactulose - provide a bulky, indigestible substance for the alimentary tract to work on, forcing other materials out in their path through the stomach and intestines. The final types of laxatives are the propulsive types such as Ex-Lax and Dulcolax. These stimulate the muscular contractions of the digestive tract to move things along more rapidly. When using any of these, only do so on the advice of your vet, or with caution. It is easy to convert a constipated dog to one with a bad case of diarrhea if you're not careful.
When to Get the Vet
If the straining continues for more than two episodes, consult your veterinarian.
If your dog begins to vomit in conjunction with making repeated unsuccessful attempts to defecate, it is urgent that you see your vet for help.