Dog’s toilet habits can give us some information about their general health, particularly their digestive health. Frequency of defecation varies between individuals and depends on the dog’s age, lifestyle and diet; however, you should expect a healthy adult dog to pass faeces with normal colour and consistency one to three times a day. Puppies defecate more frequently, and it is normal and healthy for them to go up to six times a day.

What can influence a dog’s frequency of defecation?

There are a number of factors involved…

Age: the younger the dog, the more they will poop! 

Puppies usually eat more often, their metabolism is quicker, and they are not able to control their bowels as efficiently as adults. For these reasons, they also go to the toilet more often! On the other hand, our older companions move less, have a slower metabolism and lower energy requirements. Therefore, tend to pass drier, smaller faeces, less often.

Diet: faeces are a waste product after energy is removed from food through digestion. 

It is not surprising that what we give our dogs to eat (and what they pick up on walks) hugely influences the quality and frequency of their faeces. A good quality diet usually contains more nutrients per gram of food, meaning your dog needs to eat less for the same nutritional intake. Conversely, when we feed our dogs poor quality diets, they usually need to eat a larger amount meaning (you guessed it), more poop! Changes in diet interfere with the intestinal flora and can change faeces consistency, colour and quantity.

Dietary fibre: an adequate fibre intake promotes healthy bowel movements in humans and dogs.

If you are feeding your dog a high-quality diet, you should not need to supplement it with more fibre; however, there are exceptions. If your dog’s intestinal health is not as regular or as healthy as it could be, you can have a conversation with your vet about increasing your dog’s fibre intake. Most nutritional sources suggest about 5% fibre is optimal for dogs – lower than in humans. Either too much or too little can cause problems.

Food intake: less food equals less faeces. 

If your dog’s appetite has been lower than usual, this will likely be reflected in a lower frequency of defecation and is not necessarily related to their intestinal health.

Frequency of feeding: because faeces are a product of food metabolism. 

So, dogs who are fed more often tend to pass faeces more often too; generally, eight to twelve hours after food has been consumed. 

Activity levels: exercise stimulates gut motility in humans and dogs alike. 

Keeping a regular exercise routine with your pet will encourage regular motions too. If dogs exercise less as a result of injury, hospitalisation, staying in kennels while you go on holidays or simply because the weather hasn’t helped your motivation to go outside for long walks, it is normal and expected that they will poop less too.

Stress levels: stress is closely associated with gut health. 

This can increase or decrease the frequency of defecation and alter faeces consistency. Even with a healthy digestive system, anxious dogs may not feel comfortable to defecate in environments they don’t feel safe in and may hold it for longer. You can try walking them with a long lead to give them the freedom to choose an appropriate place. And taking them to more private locations, free from noise, other people and dogs.

Medication, general anaesthesia and hospitalisation: certain medications, including anaesthetics, may increase or decrease gut motility

This may either be directly or by interfering with dogs’ metabolism. Furthermore, periods of stillness associated with anaesthesia and hospitalisation decrease motility too. It is not unusual for dogs to take up to four days to pass motions after a period of hospitalisation.

Is it ever a bad sign if my dog hasn’t passed faeces for just one day?

The factors mentioned above are all physiological reasons for dogs to poop less or more than normal. However, on occasion, dogs may stop defecating due to a medical condition which needs to be addressed and corrected with the help of your vet. 

If your dog is not eating (anorexia), this could be the result of several health problems. If lasting more than one or two days, a veterinary consultation is warranted.

Intestinal obstruction due to the presence of a foreign body, a mass or a twist in the intestine (preventing motions from passing the blocked site) is an emergency that, if not addressed soon enough, can have catastrophic consequences such as intestinal rupture, septicaemia and even death. This is usually associated with severe abdominal pain, lethargy, vomiting and anorexia. While it is reasonable to wait a couple of days if your dog has not defecated but is otherwise well, if they show any of the abovementioned signs you should take them to the vets as an emergency.

Constipation is another medical condition that may need to be corrected with laxatives or an enema. Dogs usually get constipated as a result of dehydration and this may need to be addressed too to prevent recurrence. Other possible causes include pain on defecating (“dyschiezia”) – for example, caused by anal gland disease.

Wrap up – What can I do if my dog hasn’t passed any faeces yet?

As long as they are well in themselves, bright and eating, you generally do not need to worry if your dog goes one or two days without passing faeces. In these cases, you can exercise them more, encourage them to drink and eat.

If they haven’t passed faeces for 3 days, are lethargic, scooting or licking their back end, vomiting or refusing to eat, you should take them to the vets as soon as possible.

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