Dogs that chew and eat objects that aren't their food are at risk for intestinal blockages. Intestinal blockages are veterinary emergencies that have to be treated quickly to prevent serious health issues and the need for major surgery. Today, our Houston County vets discuss the symptoms of intestinal blockages in dogs and how they can be treated with surgery.
Causes of Dog Intestinal Blockages
A common cause for concern in all dogs is bowel obstruction, which is when their stomach or intestines have become partially or completely blocked. Blockages can cause a handful of complications, such as preventing food and water from passing through the GI tract and decreasing your pup's blood flow. Dogs can even die from an intestinal blockage within 3-7 days.
Blockages can happen anywhere along the digestive tract. Some might be able to pass into the esophagus, but not into the stomach. Others may pass into the stomach but not the intestines, or even become lodged in the intricate twists and turns of a dog’s intestines.
The most common kind of bowel obstruction is foreign bodies. Every pup runs the risk of swallowing surprising items such as toys, trash, socks, underwear, dish towels, and more. String, yarn, and rope fibers are especially hazardous for dogs because they can cause intestinal twisting. With older dogs, other common bowel obstructions to look out for are masses or tumors.
Signs & Symptoms of Intestinal Blockages in Dogs
Dog intestinal blockage symptoms can be easy to brush off as merely an upset stomach unless you saw your pooch swallow a foreign object. Below, we have listed the common signs of intestinal blockages in dogs:
- Loss of appetite
- Painful abdomen to the touch
- Aggressive behavior when the abdomen is touched
- Straining or unable to poop
If you think your dog ingested something suspicious or they are exhibiting any of the symptoms detailed above, call your veterinarian as quickly as possible.
Diagnosing Dogs With Intestinal Blockages
If you saw your dog eat a foreign object, you might be wondering how you can help your dog pass the obstruction, but you should not attempt this on your own, your dog requires veterinary care.
First, your vet will conduct a physical examination on your dog, paying special attention to the abdomen. Then they may perform blood work to determine if the blockage is affecting your dog’s overall health.
From there, your dog will be brought to our in-house diagnostic lab for X-rays and any other imaging techniques needed to try to find the foreign object. One such test is an endoscopy, a procedure that inserts a small tube with a tiny attached camera through your dog’s throat and into their stomach (your dog would be sedated for this procedure).
How Intestinal Blockages in Dogs Are Treated
There are both surgical and nonsurgical treatments for dogs that have intestinal obstructions. Many factors go into this decision including the location of the blockage, how long the object has been stuck, and the size, shape, and structure of the object.
In some cases, a vet can retrieve the foreign object with an endoscope. If this is not possible, your vet likely will consult the ultrasound or X-rays to determine where (and what) the obstruction is.
Some foreign objects, given time, can pass on their own. However, when it comes to a timeline for intestinal blockages in dogs, time is of the essence. If the object does not pass on its own and your dog has the symptoms listed above, your pooch will have to be treated as quickly as possible.
If your vet determines that the foreign object presents an immediate danger, they may order emergency surgery.
Dog Intestinal Blockage Surgery
Dog intestinal blockage surgery is a major procedure, requiring your dog to be anesthetized. After the surgery, your dog will stay at the hospital and recover for several days.
For the intestinal surgery, your vet will make an incision into your dog’s abdomen near the blockage site and carefully extract the object. The length of this surgery can vary because the vet might have to repair damage in the stomach or intestinal wall, caused by the obstruction.
Your dog's survival and how well they recover after their intestinal blockage surgery will depend on various factors, including:
- Your dog’s health before the surgery
- How long the foreign object has been stuck in the intestines
- Size, shape, and location of the foreign object
The physical exam and diagnostic tests your vet conducts prior to your pet's veterinary surgery will help them determine how well they think your dog will recover after their procedure. Of course, the sooner the surgery is performed, the better.
The Recovery Process For Dogs After Intestinal Blockage Surgery
The most critical period for your dog is the first 72 hours after surgery. If the patient is doing well after 72 hours then they typically recover well, but there are still some potential complications:
- Dehiscence (Wound separation or opening)
- Hypoalbuminemia (low protein count)
- Sepsis (blood poisoning)
After surgery and hospitalization, monitor your dog and keep their activity level very low. Stick to short walks for at least a week — you don’t want their sutures to tear. Your dog will also need to wear a cone to keep them from chewing on the healing incision.
It’s important to feed your dog small amounts of bland food before gradually transitioning them back to their previous diet. Also, ensure they are getting enough fluids to prevent dehydration.
Major surgery is painful. Your dog won’t be in pain during the surgery, but will most likely feel some pain afterward. Your vet will prescribe post-surgery pain medication for your dog. Follow the prescription instructions carefully to keep your dog’s pain under control at home and help prevent infections.
Anesthesia can make some dogs feel nauseated after surgery and it’s actually common for dogs to vomit afterward. Therefore, if required, your vet may also prescribe medications to relieve your dog’s nausea and vomiting.
The Cost of Intestinal Blockage Surgery For Dogs
The cost of intestinal blockage surgery for dogs can vary dramatically depending on how extensive the surgery is, how long the obstruction has been present, the length of the hospital stay, your location, and more.
The only way to get an estimate for the cost of your dog's surgery is to talk to your vet.
Ways to Prevent Intestinal Blockages In Dogs
The best way to prevent intestinal blockages in your dog is to limit their chances of ingesting non-food material.
- Don't let your dog scavenge through garbage and debris (outside and inside the house)
- Be vigilant about the items in your home and track when they go missing
- Keep objects your dog may eat out of their reach
- Keep an eye on your dog while they are playing with their toys or chewing on rawhide or bones
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.