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Bowel Obstruction In Dogs: Causes & Treatments

If your dog has a habit of chewing everything in their path, the possibility of a bowel obstruction is a very real health concern. Our Seattle vets discuss bowel obstructions in dogs and why it's very important to have this potentially life-threatening condition treated as quickly as possible.

What Causes of Bowel Obstructions in Dogs?

Intestinal blockages are another term for bowel obstructions. When a dog's stomach or intestines become partially or completely blocked, they frequently develop. Obstructions can cause a variety of problems, such as preventing food and water from passing through your dog's GI tract, which reduces blood flow. In dogs, bowel obstructions can be fatal within 3-7 days.

Obstructions can occur anywhere along the digestive tract of a dog. Some may pass through the esophagus but not through the stomach. Others may pass through the stomach but not the intestines, or become lodged in the intestines' intricate twists and turns.

Foreign bodies are the most common cause of bowel obstructions. Every dog has the potential to swallow unexpected items like underwear, socks, dish towels, and toys. String, yarn, and rope fibers are particularly dangerous to dogs because they can twist their intestines. Other common bowel obstructions to watch for in older dogs are masses or tumors.

Symptoms of Bowel Obstructions 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
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Aggressive reaction to abdomen being touched
  • Restlessness
  • Whining
  • Dehydration
  • Bloating
  • 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 witnessed your dog eat a non-food or potentially harmful object, you might be wondering how you can help your dog pass the obstruction. Do not attempt this on your own! Your dog needs veterinary care.

Your vet will give your dog a thorough examination, 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 techniques needed in order 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.

Treatment for Bowel Obstruction in Dogs

There are both surgical and non-surgical treatments available for bowel obstructions. There are many elements that have to be taken into consideration when determining which type of treatment to use including the location of the blockage, how long the object has been stuck, as well as the size, shape, and structure of the object.

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.

Bowel Obstruction 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.

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 surgery can vary because they may 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:

  • The health of your dog prior to 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 prior to 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.

Your Dog's Recovery After Bowel Obstruction Surgery

After the procedure is complete, the next 72 hours are the most critical period for your dog. If they're doing well after 72 hours then they typically recover well, but there are still some potential complications, including:

  • Sepsis (blood poisoning)
  • Hypoalbuminemia (low protein count)
  • Dehiscence (Wound separation or opening)

After surgery and hospitalization, keep an eye on your dog and limit their activity. Only take them for short walks for at least a week—you don't want their sutures to tear. Your dog will also need to wear a cone while the incision heals to prevent them from licking or chewing it.

It's critical to feed your dog small amounts of bland food at first, then gradually transition them to their regular diet. You must also make certain that they are getting enough fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated.

Major surgery is excruciatingly painful. Your dog will not be in pain during the surgery, but he or she will most likely be in pain afterward. Your veterinarian will prescribe pain medication for your dog after surgery. To manage your dog's pain at home and prevent infections, it's critical that you carefully follow your veterinarian's prescription instructions.

After surgery, anesthesia can make some dogs feel nauseated, and it's not uncommon for them to vomit. As a result, if necessary, your veterinarian may prescribe medications to alleviate your dog's nausea and vomiting..

The Cost of Surgery

The cost of your dog's intestinal blockage surgery will depend on the extent of the surgery required, the length of time that the obstruction has been present, how long your dog will stay in the animal hospital, and other factors.

Preventing Bowel Obstructions in Dogs

The best way to prevent your dog 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 try to find them quickly if they go missing.
  • Monitor your dog while they are playing with their toys or chewing on rawhide or bones.
  • Keep your dog from exploring (and therefore potentially eating) garbage and debris.

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.

Do you think that your dog might have bowel obstruction? Contact our Seattle vets right away to book an urgent appointment for your furry friend. 

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