Does your dog have a habit of chewing and eating everything in its path? If so, you may be worried about the possibility of bowel obstruction (also known as intestinal blockage). In this blog, our Tigard vets explain what bowel obstructions are and why it's very important to have this serious condition treated as quickly as possible.
What Causes of Intestinal Blockage in Dogs
Bowel obstructions can also be referred to as intestinal blockages. They often develop when a dog's stomach or intestines become partially or completely blocked. Obstructions can lead to various complications, including the prevention of food and water from passing through your dog's GI tract, decreasing their blood flow. Bowel obstructions in dogs can also be fatal within 3-7 days.
Obstructions can happen anywhere along a dog's digestive tract. Some may be able to pass into the esophagus, but not into the stomach. Others may pass into the stomach but not into the intestines or become lodged in the intricate twists and turns of a dog’s intestines.
Foreign bodies are the most prevalent kind of bowel obstructions. Every dog runs the risk of ingesting unexpected objects like socks, underwear, dish towels, and toys. Rope, yarn, and string fibers can cause intestinal twisting in dogs, making them particularly dangerous. Other typical bowel obstructions in older dogs to watch out for include masses or tumors.
The Signs & Symptoms of an Intestinal Blockage in Dogs
How do you know if your dog has a bowel obstruction? Here are some common symptoms and signs of intestinal blockages in dogs:
- Straining or unable to poop
- Loss of appetite
- Aggressive behavior when the abdomen is touched
- Painful abdomen to the touch
It can be easy to brush off the symptoms above as merely an upset stomach unless you have seen your dog swallow a foreign object. But, if you think your dog ingested something suspicious or they are exhibiting the signs detailed above, it's imperative to call your veterinarian as quickly as possible.
Diagnosing Bowel Obstructions in Dogs
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 needs veterinary care.
Your dog will first undergo a physical examination from your veterinarian, who will pay close attention to the abdomen. To ascertain whether the obstruction is affecting your dog's general health, they might also run some blood tests.
From there, your dog will be taken to the in-house diagnostic lab for X-rays and any other imaging techniques needed to try and see 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.
How to Treat Intestinal Blockage in Dogs
Bowel obstructions are treatable through both surgical and non-surgical means. The location of the obstruction, the length of time the object has been stuck, its size, shape, and structure, as well as other factors, must all be taken into account when choosing the appropriate type of treatment.
Sometimes vets can retrieve the foreign object with an endoscope. If this isn't possible, your vet will probably have to consult the ultrasound or X-rays to determine where (and what) the obstruction is.
Some foreign objects can pass on their own with time. But, when it comes to a timeline for intestinal blockage 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 require urgent treatment as quickly as possible.
Your vet will order surgery if they determine that the foreign object presents an immediate danger.
Intestinal Blockage Surgery for Dogs
Bowel obstruction surgery is a major procedure for dogs, and your pooch will have to be anesthetized. After the surgery, your dog will need to stay at the hospital for a few days to recover.
Your dog's abdomen will be cut by your veterinarian near the location of the obstruction for the intestinal surgery, and the obstruction will be carefully removed. Because the obstruction may have caused damage to the stomach or intestinal wall, the length of the procedure may vary.
Your dog’s survival after surgery to remove an intestinal blockage depends on a few things:
- The health of your dog before the surgery
- Size, shape, and location of the foreign object
- How long the foreign object has been stuck in the intestines
The physical exam and diagnostic tests that your vet performs before your pup's surgery will help them get a better understanding of how well your dog will recover following surgery. However the faster the surgery can be performed, the better.
Dog's 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 its activity level very low. For at least a week, only take them for short walks— you don’t want their sutures to tear. Your dog will also need to wear a cone to keep them from licking or chewing the incision as it heals.
It’s important that you only feed your dog small amounts of bland food, before gradually transitioning them to their regular diet. You also need to ensure that they are getting enough fluids to keep them from getting dehydrated.
It hurts to have major surgery. Your dog won't feel any pain during the procedure, but she probably will afterward. Your dog will be given post-operative pain medication by your veterinarian. To effectively manage your dog's pain at home and prevent infections from spreading, it's crucial that you carefully adhere to your veterinarian's prescription instructions.
Anesthesia can make some dogs feel nauseated after surgery and it’s 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 extent of the surgery, how long the obstruction has been there, how long your dog stays in the hospital, and other factors will all affect how much your dog's intestinal blockage surgery will cost.
Preventing Intestinal Blockage 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 their 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 their 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.