If your dog seems to chew everything in their path, you might be worried about the possibility of a bowel obstruction. In this blog, our Lancaster vets explain what bowel obstructions are and why it's very important to have this serious condition treated as quickly as possible.
What Causes of Bowel Obstructions in Dogs?
Bowel obstructions (a.k.a intestinal blockages) often develop when a dog's stomach or intestines become partially or completely blocked. Obstructions can lead to various complications, including the prevention of food and water from passing through your dog's GI tract, decreasing their blood flow. Bowel obstructions in dogs are serious and can cause a dog's death 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 may pass into the stomach but not into the intestines or become lodged in the intricate twists and turns of a dog’s intestines.
The most common types of bowel obstructions are foreign bodies. Every pooch is 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 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
- Loss of appetite
- Aggressive reaction to abdomen being touched
- 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 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 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, 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 (e.g. unseasoned cooked chicken, soft white rice), 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 the extent of the surgery, 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.