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Intestinal Blockage in Dogs

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Severity: i High
Life stage: All
  • Obstructions in the intestines can cause major problems for your dog's gut.
  • The most helpful information in diagnosing a foreign blockage is a good history from you as the pet parent. 
  • Getting your dog to the vet in a timely manner is very important if you suspect an intestinal obstruction. 
  • The best way to prevent an intestinal blockage is to limit their chances of ingesting non-food material. 

“My dog ate my homework!” An excuse that is probably true more often than we think. To our dogs, just about everything can look appetizing. Sometimes the smell, texture, and taste of certain items lure dogs into experimenting and eating items they should not. 

Pets are notorious for eating plastic balls, tissues, bottle caps, stones, clothing, food wrappers, and much more. Young, playful dogs are usually the most common culprits, but older dogs may ingest foreign objects too. 

These items can become lodged anywhere in the gastrointestinal (digestive) tract, creating an obstruction. Any type of obstruction is an emergency and requires immediate veterinary attention. Most will need surgical treatment and supportive care.

What Is An Intestinal Blockage? 

Dog with head in a paper bag

Intestinal blockages are mechanical obstructions that disrupt the flow of ingesta (anything eaten) through the digestive tract. 

A dog’s gastrointestinal tract is one long tube that extends from your dog’s mouth to his anus. It takes about 10-24 hours for ingesta to move through the entire digestive tract. Anything that goes in, must come out. But when eating a non-food object that cannot be digested, it might not pass as easily. 

When items are stuck in the intestines, they cause an obstruction. Obstructions in the intestines can cause major problems for your dog’s gut. It happens as a series of events. The obstruction causes a loss of blood flow to the area that is obstructed. This disrupts the normal contractions and results in dilation and fluid buildup in the intestines. This eventually leads to fluid loss, bowel dysfunction, and overall lack of oxygen to the bowel. Dogs with an obstruction may be unable to absorb nutrients or fluids, leading to dehydration.

Some dog breeds such as Terriers, Spaniels, and Collies are predisposed to intestinal blockages.

What Causes Intestinal Blockage in Dogs? 

Dog laying on ground with destroyed toy

Intestinal blockages occur when the intestines become obstructed in any way. Foreign objects—such as pieces of toys, bones, rocks, etc.—are the most common cause of obstructions in dogs. A non-food object can become lodged in the digestive tract causing either a complete or partial obstruction. 

Blockages can occur anywhere along the 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. 

However, intestinal obstructions in dogs can also be caused by masses within the wall of the intestines and masses outside of the intestinal lumen (the opening inside the bowels) pressing on loops of bowel. Growths within the intestinal wall can be associated with different tumors. Other causes of obstruction include intussusception (where one part of the intestine slides into another), hernias, and masses originating from other organs.

Signs of An Intestinal Blockage in Dogs

Lethargic dog laying on the bed

For your veterinarian, the most helpful information in diagnosing a foreign body or blockage is a good history from you as the pet parent. 

Questions for parents to think about include:

  • Have you noticed any missing cloth? Destroyed chew toys? Opened garbage?
  • Did you watch your dog eat something? Such as a hotdog or bait off a hook? 

Other signs you may notice are your dog straining to defecate or producing small amounts of feces. Behavioral changes such as growling or biting when being picked up or having their abdomen touched are signs that your pet is in pain.  

The main signs of bowel obstruction in dogs are consistent with gastrointestinal upset. Acute vomiting is a common sign, but other signs include: 

  • Dehydration 
  • Vomiting 
  • Anorexia (refusal to eat)
  • Weight loss 
  • Lethargy 
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea 

Diagnosing an Intestinal Obstruction 

Dog waiting to be seen at the vet

Intestinal obstructions can be diagnosed in a variety of ways. Your veterinarian may be able to feel an obstruction during your dog’s physical exam by palpating (feeling) the abdomen, but this will not confirm an intestinal blockage. Therefore, the veterinarian may want to use other diagnostics such as bloodwork, radiographs, or ultrasound to obtain more information. 

Foreign objects such as metal, porcelain, bone, or dense rubber can be seen on X-rays, but other objects may only be visible on ultrasound. Partial obstructions may be missed on radiographs if the object is not easily visible and is not giving the signs of an obstruction such as fluid or dilated intestines. A contrast study can be used to highlight obstructions that are harder to diagnose.

How to Treat Dogs for Intestinal Blockages 

Dog leaning over sofa side looking unwell

Treatment for intestinal obstructions can be surgical or non-surgical. Many factors go into this decision including:

  • The location and duration of the obstruction
  • The size, shape, and characteristics of the foreign object

Making sure your dog gets veterinary attention in a timely manner is very important if you suspect an intestinal obstruction. 

Your veterinarian may want to take a series of X-rays to determine if the foreign object is moving easily through the gastrointestinal tract. If an object reaches the colon, it will usually be passed within a bowel movement. Smaller items that are contained in the stomach can be removed by inducing vomiting. You should always consult with your veterinarian before inducing vomiting in your dog.

For objects that cannot readily move through the digestive tract or are causing damage, surgery is the preferred treatment. 

Puppy looking concerned being held up by vet

The surgery is as simple as removing the object and suturing the stomach or intestines back together. Foreign body removal can also be performed endoscopically without open surgery. If an intestinal blockage has compromised blood flow to an area, the surgery may include removing dead tissue. 

Complications can arise from any surgery, but with an obstruction removal, the most common complication is leakage from the incision site. Your pet will need supportive care and may need to remain hospitalized for a day or two after surgery. Timing is one of the most important factors for determining how well your pet will do after his surgery. 

Cost to Treat Intestinal Blockages in Dogs

The cost to treat obstructions in dogs will range depending on your geographic location and the severity of the blockage. You may need to pay for an exam, radiographs, and any treatment recommendations or monitoring if the blockage is small and veterinarians believe it will pass or can induce vomiting. 

Intestinal blockage surgery in dogs, however, can cost up to $2,000. Pets may need to stay in the hospital for a few days or be on pain medications following surgery, which may add to the overall cost of treatment.  

How to Prevent Intestinal Blockages in Dogs 

Woman at home playing with dog

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

Tips include: 

  • Putting things your dog may eat out of his reach.
  • Being vigilant about items in the house and tracking when they are missing. 
  • Keeping an eye on your dog while he is playing with his toys or chewing on rawhide or bones. 
  • Keeping your dogs from scavenging through garbage and debris (outside and inside the house).

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