Sometimes, our dogs eat things they shouldn't. Intestinal obstructions are a relatively common problem diagnosed by our Seattle vets. In this post, we explain the cause, symptoms, and treatment of intestinal blockage in your dog.
How Dog Intestinal Blockages Happen
Bowel obstruction is a common issue in all dogs at some point. A blockage occurs when your pup's stomach or intestines have been partly or entirely blocked. Blockages can potentially cause a number of issues, including preventing food and water from passing through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and decreasing blood flow. If left untreated, intestinal blockages can even cause death within 3-7 days.
Blockages can occur anywhere along the digestive tract. While some blockages may be able to pass into the esophagus, they don't always reach the stomach, which is the stem of many issues. Others blockages may enter the stomach only to get lodged in the intestines.
Foreign bodies are the most frequent cause of bowel obstructions. Every dog faces the risk of swallowing plenty of inedible items, from trash and toys to dish towels, underwear, socks and more. Yarn, string and rope fibers are particularly hazardous for dogs as they can cause the intestines to twist. In older dogs, it is also important to watch out for blockages like tumors or growths.
Dog Intestinal Blockage Timeline
A common question is, 'Can a dog die from intestinal blockage?' Sadly, yes.
If it is not properly treated in time, an intestinal blockage could press against the intestinal wall, leading to damage of the intestines and potentially killing tissue. Without appropriate and timely treatment, dogs with a complete intestinal blockage will typically see fatal complications within 3-4 days.
Given time, some foreign objects can pass on their own. When it comes to estimating a timeline for intestinal blockage, however, every moment is critical. If your pup does not pass the object on its own and is showing symptoms of intestinal blockage, contact your vet as soon as possible. If your veterinarian determines that the foreign object presents an immediate danger, emergency surgery will be ordered.
If your dog displays any of the common intestinal blockage symptoms listed below, seek emergency veterinary care.
Signs of Intestinal Blockage in Dogs
How can you be certain if your dog has an intestinal blockage? It can be easy to brush off symptoms as an upset stomach unless you actually saw your dog eat a foreign object.
We recommend contacting your vet right away if you notice any of these symptoms in your dog:
- Aggressive behavior when the abdomen is touched
- Loss of appetite
- Straining or unable to poop
- Painful abdomen to the touch
Upon noticing some or all of these symptoms, call your veterinarian as soon as possible, or contact your nearest animal emergency center.
Diagnosing Dogs Intestinal Blockages
If you saw your pooch eat something they shouldn't, you might be wondering how you can help them pass the obstruction. Do not attempt this alone! Visit your vet for help.
Your vet will first perform a physical exam on the dog, and possibly blood work to determine if the blockage is affecting their overall health. They will then likely be taken for X-rays and any other imaging technique required to try to see the foreign object.
Treatments For Intestinal Blockage in Dogs
There are surgical and non-surgical treatments for intestinal blockage. Many factors go into this decision, including your location, how long the object has been stuck, and the size and shape of it.
In some cases, a vet can retrieve the foreign object with an endoscope. If this is not possible, your veterinarian will likely consult the produced images or X-rays to try and determine what the obstruction is.
Intestinal blockage Surgery for Dogs
Intestinal blockage surgery on dogs is a major procedure. It requires anesthesia and recovery time in the hospital for a several days following the surgery.
During surgery, your vet will make an incision into your dog’s abdomen near the blockage site and carefully extract the object. The length of surgery varies depending on whether or not they will need to repair any damage to the stomach or intestinal tissue.
Your dog’s health and 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 veterinary surgery. Of course, the sooner the surgery is performed, the better.
Dogs' Recovery After Intestinal Blockage Surgery
The first 72 hours after surgery are the most critical. If the patient is doing well this point, they typically recover well, but there are still some potential complications:
- Sepsis (blood poisoning)
- Hypoalbuminemia (low protein count)
- Dehiscence (Wound separation or opening)
After you take your furry companion home from surgery, it is important to monitor them and keep their activity level low. They will likely need a cone to limit movement and contact with the incision site. Stick to short walks for at least a week to avoid tearing sutures.
Feed your dog small amounts of bland food before gradually transitioning to their previous diet during the recovery period. Also, make sure they are getting enough fluids to prevent dehydration.
Major surgery is painful, and your pup will be experiencing some discomfort afterward. Your veterinary surgeon will prescribe post-surgery pain medication for your dog. Be sure to follow the prescription instructions carefully to effectively manage your dog's pain 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.
Intestinal Blockage Surgery Cost
The cost of intestinal blockage surgery can vary dramatically depending on how extensive the surgery is. This is influenced by factors such as how long the obstruction has been present, the length of the hospital stay, and the standing overall health of your dog.
To get an accurate estimate of how much your dog's intestinal blockage surgery will cost, you must speak to your vet or veterinary surgeon.
Preventing Intestinal Blockages in Dogs
The best way to prevent intestinal blockages in your dog is to limit their chances of swallowing foreign objects.
- 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 they are 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.