Impacted Colon in Dogs

An impacted colon occurs when the rectal cavity becomes backed up with fecal matter. While it may take some time for the symptoms of an impacted colon to become obvious to a dog owner, the condition is serious and requires treatment just the same. Left untreated, an impacted colon in a dog can lead to life-threatening health conditions.

Etiology and Cause of Impacted Colin in a Dog

The most common cause of an impacted colon in dogs is constipation. The digestive system is primarily responsible for breaking down and digesting food so that it can be properly excreted through the rectum. In dogs with an impacted colon, the digestive process may still be occurring naturally, but after the food has made its way through the small intestine and into the rectum, it stops and is retained there. This is commonly referred to as constipation. However, when the fecal matter remains in the rectal cavity for a long period of time without being released, it is referred to as an impacted colon.

Signs and Symptoms of Dog Impacted Colon

It is usually not readily apparent to dog owners that their dog has an impacted colon. The main reason for this is that it takes a certain amount of time for fecal matter to even begin to build in the rectum. Some dogs defecate daily, whereas others may do so only every other day. Constipation is often the first sign of an impacted colon in a dog, and a dog owner must be very observant of his dog’s bowel movements in order to notice this sign.

When constipation is ongoing and there is no relief of the fecal matter, other symptoms may start to occur in your dog, such as:

  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Lack of appetite
  • General wasting-away appearance

All of these signs may be indicative of an impacted colon in dogs, and they typically occur when the condition has been allowed to progress, sometimes causing infection and a reserve of toxins backing up into the bloodstream.

Diagnosis and Identification

When any of the above listed symptoms are noticed, it should warrant veterinary attention. In order to diagnose an impacted colon, a veterinarian will begin by inserting a finger into the rectum to determine how much, if any, fecal matter is being stored there. When an abnormal amount of fecal matter is identified, the veterinarian may order special x-ray images to be taken of the colon and small intestine to determine the extent of the back up and identify any other body systems that may be affected.

Treatment and Prevention

Treatment of an impacted colon in dogs typically begins with removing all of the impacted fecal material from the rectum. If the impaction is not overly severe, fiber supplements or stool softeners may be given to help initiate defecation. In rare instances, when medication is not sufficient enough to clear the impaction, surgery may be indicated for complete fecal matter removal.  

Prevention of a future impacted colon in a dog is often determined by rectifying the true cause of the initial impaction. Most of the time, dietary changes and increased fluid consumption may be ordered to help ensure that stools are soft enough to pass in a regular, consistent fashion.