How Dog Intestinal Blockages Happen
Bowel obstruction is often a concern for dogs, and happens when their intestines or stomach have been partly or completely blocked. Blockages can cause several potential complications, including preventing food and water from passing through the gastrointestinal tract and decreasing blood flow. If they are not cleared, intestinal blockages can even cause fatal complications within 3 to 7 days.
Blockages can also occur elsewhere along the digestive tract. While some may be able to make their way into the esophagus, they may not get to the stomach. Others might enter the stomach but not the intestines, or become lodged within the many twists and turns of the intestines.
The most frequent cause of bowel obstructions is foreign bodies. Almost every pup has swallowed or will get hold of a surprising number of items in their lifetimes, from dish towels to toys, underwear, rope, trash and more. String, rope and yarn fibers are especially hazardous for dogs as they may cause the intestines to twist. Other common bowel obstructions to watch for in older dogs are masses and tumors.
Dog Intestinal Blockage Timeline
A common question many pet owners ask is, 'Can a dog die from intestinal blockage?' Sadly, the answer is yes.
An untreated intestinal blockage may put pressure on the intestinal wall, causing damage to the intestines and potentially causing the tissue to die. It can also lead to rupture or perforation of the bowel. Without effective treatment, dogs with complete intestinal blockage will usually die within 3 to 4 days.
Some foreign objects may pass on their own given time. However, when estimating a timeline for intestinal blockage in dogs, time is critical. If your dog's system is not able to pass the object on its own and your pooch is showing symptoms listed in this article, emergency care will be required as soon as possible.
If your veterinarian deems the foreign object is an immediate danger, they will recommend emergency surgery. Seek emergency veterinary care if your dog exhibits any of the common intestinal blockage symptoms listed below.
Signs of Intestinal Blockage in Dogs
How can you know for sure whether your dog has an intestinal blockage? It may be easy to brush off serious symptoms of intestinal blockages as merely an upset stomach unless you happened to catch your dog swallowing a foreign object.
However, our Thousand Oaks vets recommend contacting your vet right away if you notice any of these symptoms in your dog:
- Loss of appetite
- Aggressive behavior when the abdomen is touched
- Straining or unable to poop
- Painful abdomen to the touch
If you suspect your dog has ingested something they shouldn't have or they are displaying the symptoms listed above, call your veterinarian as soon as possible, or contact your nearest animal emergency center.
Diagnosing Dog Intestinal Blockages
If you saw your dog eat a foreign object, you might be wondering how you can help your dog pass the obstruction. You should not attempt this on your own, your dog needs veterinary care.
Your vet will first perform a physical exam on your dog, 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 technique required to try to 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.
Treatments For Intestinal Blockage in Dogs
Treatment for intestinal obstructions can be surgical or non-surgical. Many factors go into this decision including the location, how long the object has been stuck, and the size, shape, and structure of the object.
In some cases, a vet can retrieve the foreign object with an endoscope. If this is not possible, your vet likely will consult the ultrasound or X-rays to determine where (and what) the obstruction is.
Intestinal blockage Surgery for Dogs
Dog intestinal blockage surgery is a major procedure, requiring your dog to be anesthetized. After the surgery, your dog will stay at the hospital and recover for several days
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:
- 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 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 their activity level very low. Stick to short walks for at least a week — you don’t want their sutures to tear. Your dog will also need to wear a cone to keep them from chewing on the healing incision.
It’s important to feed your dog small amounts of bland food before gradually transitioning to his previous diet during this time. Also, make sure they are getting enough fluids to prevent dehydration.
Major surgery is painful. Your dog won’t be in pain during the surgery, of course, but will probably feel 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 common for dogs to vomit afterward. So, your vet may also prescribe medications to relieve your dog’s nausea and vomiting, if needed.
Dog Intestinal Blockage Surgery Cost
The cost of intestinal blockage surgery for dogs can vary dramatically depending on how extensive the surgery is, how long the obstruction has been present, the length of the hospital stay, and other factors such as the overall health of your dog, age of your dog, and even where you live. 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 ingesting non-food material.
- 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.