If your dog is a habitual chewer or seems to eat just about everything in sight, you might be concerned about potential intestinal blockages. Our Brighton vets see this serious condition frequently and if not treated quickly it can cause devastating health issues up to the necessitation of major surgery to save your dog's life.
How do intestinal blockages happen in dogs?
Bowel obstruction is a major cause for concern in all dogs, and it occurs when a dog's stomach or intestines have been either partially or completely blocked. Blockages cause a number of complications, including preventing food and water from passing through the dog's GI tract and decreasing blood flow. Your dog can even suffer fatal consequences from an intestinal blockage within 3-7 days.
Blockages can occur anywhere along the digestive tract. Some may be able to pass into the esophagus, but not into the stomach, while other obstructions could pass into the stomach but not the intestines. They can also become lodged in the intricate twists and turns of a dog’s intestines.
The most frequent kinds of bowel obstructions are foreign bodies. Dogs are curious and they run the risk of swallowing surprising items: toys, trash, socks, underwear, dish towels… the list goes on! String, yarn, and rope fibers are especially hazardous for dogs because they can cause intestinal twisting. With older dogs, some additional bowel obstructions to watch for are masses or tumors.
What are the signs of intestinal blockages in dogs?
How do you know if your dog has an intestinal blockage? Unless you witnessed your dog swallow a foreign object, the symptoms of intestinal blockage could be misunderstood as merely an upset stomach. Here are some of the signs of a dog that potentially has a intestinal blockage:
- Loss of appetite
- Straining or unable to poop
- Exhibits pain when the abdomen is touched
- Aggressive behavior when the abdomen is touched
If you think your dog ingested something suspicious or they are exhibiting the symptoms listed below, call your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Diagnosis for intestinal blockages in dogs
If you saw your dog eat a foreign object, you might be wondering how you can help your dog pass the obstruction. Note that you should not attempt this on your own, because your dog needs veterinary care for the best chance at recovery.
Your vet will first perform a physical exam on your dog, paying special attention to the abdomen. They may also perform blood work to determine if the blockage is affecting your dog’s overall health.
From there, your dog will be taken to the in-house diagnostic lab for X-rays and any other imaging methods required to try to locate 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 the stomach. Your dog would be sedated for this procedure.
Treatment for intestinal blockages in dogs
Treatment for intestinal obstructions can be either surgical or non-surgical. There are many factors that go into making this decision including the location of the blockage, how long the obstruction has been there, 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. When it comes to intestinal blockage in dogs, however, there is no time to waste. If the object does not pass on its own and your dog has the symptoms listed above, they need to be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
If your vet determines that the foreign object presents an immediate danger, emergency surgery is ordered.
Intestinal blockage surgery for dogs
Dog intestinal blockage surgery is a major procedure that requires that your dog be anesthetized. After the surgery, your dog needs to recover at the animal hospital for several days.
During the intestinal surgery, your vet will make an incision into your dog’s abdomen near the blockage site and carefully extract the object. The duration of the surgery could vary because of the need to repair any damage to the stomach or intestinal wall resulting from the obstruction.
Your dog’s survival after surgery to remove an intestinal blockage depends on a few things:
- Size, shape, and location of the foreign object
- How long the foreign object has been stuck in the intestines
- Your dog’s health before the surgery
The physical exam and diagnostic tests that your vet performs before surgery will help them determine how well they think your dog will do after surgery. Of course, the sooner the surgery is performed, the better.
Recovery 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:
- Sepsis (blood poisoning)
- Hypoalbuminemia (low protein count)
- Dehiscence (Wound separation or opening)
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 to his previous diet during this time. Also, make sure they are getting enough fluids to prevent dehydration.
Major surgery is painful. Your dog won’t be in pain during the surgery, of course, but will probably 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 fight off infections.
Anesthesia can make some dogs feel nauseated after surgery and it’s actually common for dogs to vomit afterward. So, your vet may also prescribe medications to relieve your dog’s nausea and vomiting, if needed.
The cost of surgery
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, and so many other factors.
The cost can range anywhere from the high hundreds to thousands of dollars, but the good news is that there are ways to prevent this from happening to your pet in the first place.
Preventing intestinal blockages in dogs
The best way to prevent intestinal blockages in your dog is to limit their chances of ingesting non-food material.
- Putting things your dog may eat out of his reach.
- Be vigilant about items in the house and track when they are missing.
- Keep an eye on your dog while he is playing with his toys or chewing on rawhide or bones.
- Keep your dogs from scavenging through garbage and debris (outside and inside the house).
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.