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Bowel Obstruction in Dogs: Signs, Symptoms & Treatment

One thing dogs are unfortunately known for is chewing and eating everything in their path. This is one of the ways in which they explore the world, but occasionally this can create concerning complications. In this blog, our Santa Clarita vets discuss what bowel obstructions are, the treatment of obstructions and when it may be an emergency.

What Are Bowel Obstructions in Dogs?

Bowel obstructions can also be referred to as intestinal blockages. These blockages or bowel obstructions occur when the intestines become either partially or completely blocked. Obstructions are the cause of a variety of potential complications such as preventing food and water from passing through your dog's Gastrointestinal (GI) tract and decreasing their blood flow. It can take as few as 3-7 days for a bowel obstruction to become fatal for your dog so the key is to act fast when you notice the signs.

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. Any everyday item that you might find around your home is a potential hazard for your pup, such as underwear, socks, dish towels, and toys. String, yarn, and rope fibers are especially hazardous for dogs because these not only can cause potential blockages but also intestinal twisting. If you have a senior dog then another common bowel obstruction cause to look out for is masses or tumors.

What are the Signs of Bowel Obstruction in Dogs?

Here are some common symptoms and signs of intestinal blockages in dogs:

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

How are Bowel Obstructions in Dogs Diagnosed?

If you saw your dog eat a foreign object, you might be wondering how you can help your dog pass the obstruction, but you should not attempt this on your own, your dog needs veterinary care.

Your vet will perform a complete physical examination while focusing on your dog's abdomen. Your vet may also suggest blood work in order 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 diagnostic imaging in order to allow your vet to view 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. IF your vet chooses to perform this procedure then they will sedate your dog.

What are the Treatment Options for Bowel Obstruction in Dogs?

When it comes to bowel obstructions in dogs, there are both surgical and non-surgical options for treatment. 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.

There is a chance that your vet could also clear the blockage using endoscopy. If they are unable to do this then they will need to refer to diagnostic imaging to determine where the obstruction is and what is causing it.

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 move quickly to determine if the blockage is life-threatening and if so they will move forward with performing surgery.

When is Surgery Recommended for Bowel Obstructions in Dogs?

Bowel obstruction surgery is a major procedure for dogs, and your pooch will have to be anesthetized. Once the surgery has been completed your dog will require a short term stay at the veterinary hospital but normally for no more than a few 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.

The risks associated with surgery are directly affected by certain factors, such as:

  • 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.

What is the Recovery Time After Bowel Obstruction Surgery?

During the first 72 hours after the surgery, your dog will need to be closely monitored to ensure there are no complications. If the patient is doing well after 72 hours then they typically recover well, but there are still some potential risks:

  • 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. Ensuring that your dog wears an e-collar is critical as it will prevent your dog from irritating the wound through scratching, biting or licking.

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.

During the surgical procedure, your dog will be unable to feel any pain but they may feel discomfort throughout the recovery process. 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.

What is the Cost of Bowel Obstruction 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.

How Can Bowel Obstructions in Dogs be Prevented?

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 suspect your dog may have a bowel obstruction? Contact our Santa Clarita vets immediately to arrange an urgent care appointment. For after-hours assistance visit the emergency veterinary clinic closest to you.

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