Bowel Obstruction in Dogs: Signs, Symptoms & Treatment

If your dog chews or eats everything in its path, you might be worried about bowel obstructions. Today, our Cave Creek vets talk about the causes of bowel obstructions in dogs and why they are considered veterinary emergencies.

How Dogs Get Bowel Obstructions

Bowel obstructions (also known as intestinal blockages) often occur when a dog's stomach or intestines get partially or completely blocked. Obstructions can result in a handful of 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 could pass into the stomach but not into the intestines, or get lodged in the intricate twists and turns of a dog’s intestines.

Foreign bodies are the most common type of bowel obstruction. All dogs are at risk of swallowing surprising items such as underwear, socks, dish towels, and toys. 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 and tumors.

The Signs & Symptoms of Intestinal Blockages in Dogs

Below we have listed some common symptoms and signs of bowel obstructions in dogs:

  • Painful abdomen to the touch
  • Restlessness
  • Straining or unable to poop
  • Bloating
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Whining
  • Aggressive behavior when the abdomen is touched
  • Dehydration
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

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 Dog Bowel Obstructions

If you saw your dog consume a foreign object, you may be wondering how you can help them pass the obstruction, but you shouldn't try to do this on your own, your dog requires veterinary care.

First, your vet will conduct a physical exam on your dog, paying close attention to the abdomen. They could also implement blood work to find out if the blockage is affecting your dog’s overall health.

Your pooch will be brought to the in-house diagnostic lab for X-rays and any other imaging techniques required, in order to try and 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 the stomach. Your dog will be sedated for this procedure.

How Bowel Obstructions are Treated In Dogs

There are both surgical and non-surgical treatments available for bowel obstructions. There are lots of factors that need to be taken into account when determining which type of treatment is best to use, including the location of the blockage, how long the object has been stuck, as well as the shape, size, and structure of the item.

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 figure out where (and what) the obstruction is.

Sometimes foreign objects are able to pass on their own with time. But, when it comes to a timeline for intestinal blockages in dogs, every second counts. If the object does not pass on its own and your dog is exhibiting the symptoms detailed above, your pup will need to be treated as fast as possible.

Your vet will order surgery if they determine that the foreign object presents an immediate danger.

Surgery For Dogs With Bowel Obstructions

Bowel obstruction surgery is a major procedure for dogs, and your pooch will have to be anesthetized. Following the surgery, your dog will have to stay at the hospital for several days to recover.

For the intestinal surgery, your vet will make an incision into your dog’s abdomen close to the blockage site and extract the object very carefully. The length of this surgery can vary because they might have to repair any damage to the stomach or intestinal wall caused by the obstruction.

The chances of your dog’s survival after intestinal blockage surgery will depend on a few factors including :

  • How long the foreign object has been stuck in the intestines
  • The health of your dog prior to the surgery
  • Size, shape, and location of the foreign object

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.

Helping Your Dog Recover After Bowel Obstruction Surgery

The first 72 hours after surgery is the most critical period for your dog. 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, you need to monitor your dog and keep their activity level very low. For at least a week, only bring them for short walks in order to prevent their sutures from tearing. Your pup will also have to wear a cone to keep them from licking or chewing the incision as it heals.

It’s imperative that you only feed your dog small amounts of bland food, before gradually transitioning them back to their usual diet. You also need to ensure that they are getting enough fluids to stay hydrated.

Major surgery is painful. Your dog won’t experience any pain during the surgery, but will most likely feel some pain afterward. Your vet will prescribe post-surgery pain medication for your dog. It's important to carefully follow your vet's prescription instructions to manage your dog’s pain at home and prevent infections.

Anesthesia can make some dogs feel nauseated after surgery and it’s common for dogs to vomit afterward. As a result, your vet may also prescribe medications to relieve your dog’s nausea and vomiting.

How Much Bowel Obstruction Surgery Costs

The cost of your dog's intestinal blockage surgery will depend on a range of factors including how extensive the surgery is, how long they had the obstruction, the length of your pup's hospital stay, and more.

Ways To Help Prevent Bowel Obstructions in Dogs

The best way to prevent your dog from getting an intestinal blockage is to limit their chances of ingesting non-food material.

  • Keep an eye on your dog while they are playing with their toys or chewing on rawhide or bones.
  • Be vigilant about the items in your home and track when they go missing.
  • Don't let your dog scavenge through garbage and debris (outside and inside the house).
  • Put items your dog may eat out of their reach.

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.

If you think your dog may have a bowel obstruction, contact our Cave Creek vets as quickly as possible to schedule an appointment, or bring your pooch to the closest emergency veterinary clinic for after-hours care.