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Bowel Obstruction in Dogs: Signs, Symptoms & Treatment

Does your dog have a habit of chewing and eating everything they can get their mouths on? If so, you might be concerned about a potential bowel obstruction. In this post, our New York vets define bowel obstructions and why it's critical to have this serious condition treated as quickly as possible.

The Causes of Bowel Obstruction in Dogs

Also called intestinal blockages, bowel obstructions often happen when a dog's intestines or stomach become partially or completely blocked. These obstructions can lead to many complications, including keeping food and water from passing through your dog's GI tract, which will result in a decreased blood flow. Bowel obstructions in dogs can also turn deadly within 3 to 7 days. 

Obstructions can develop anywhere along a dog's digestive tract. While some might be able to pass into the esophagus, they won't reach the stomach. Others may make their way into the stomach but not into the intestines, or become lodge in the intricate twists and turns of your pup's intestines. 

Foreign bodies are the most common types of bowel instructions. Any dog can swallow surprising items, from socks or underwear to toys and dish towels. Keep in mind that rope fibers, string and yarn are particularly hazardous for dogs since they can cause intestinal twisting. Masses or tumors are common bowel obstructions in older dogs. 

Signs & Symptoms of Bowel Obstructions in Dogs

Wondering how to know if your dog has a bowel obstruction? Following are some common symptoms and signs of intestinal blockages in dogs:

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

Though it can be easy to attribute these symptoms to an upset stomach unless you have seen your dog swallow a foreign object first-hannd, if you think your dog may have ingested something suspicious or they are displaying the signs listed above, it's critical to contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. 

Diagnosis of Bowel Obstructions in Dogs

You might be wondering how to help your dog pass an obstruction if you saw him eat a foreign object. However, you should not try this on your own - your dog will need veterinary care. 

The veterinarian will first perform a physical exam for your dog, paying special attention to the abdomen. They might also do blood work to find out whether the blockage is impacting your dog's general health. 

From there, your dog's X-rays and other imaging techniques needed will be processed by our in-house diagnostics lab to try and find the foreign object. Endoscopy is a common procedure that inserts a small tube with a tiny attached camera through your dog's throat and into the stomach. Your dog would likely be sedated for the 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.

Dogs Recovery After Bowel Obstruction 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. 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 in order to keep them from getting dehydrated.

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 that you carefully follow your vet's prescription instructions to manage your dog’s pain at home and to keep infections from taking hold.

Anesthesia can make some dogs feel nauseated after surgery and it’s actually 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 cost of your dog's intestinal blockage surgery will depend on how extensive the surgery is, how long the obstruction has been present, the length of your pup's hospital stay, and other factors.

Preventing Bowel Obstructions 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.

Do you suspect your dog may have a bowel obstruction? Contact our New York vets right away to arrange an urgent care appointment. For after-hours assistance, visit the emergency veterinary clinic near you.

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