If your dog chews on and eats just about everything, you might be concerned about potential intestinal blockages. Our McAllen vets who see this serious condition frequently share information about intestinal blockages and the surgical procedure that can address them.
How do intestinal blockages happen in dogs?
A serious complication for all dogs is bowel obstruction, which is when their stomach or intestines have been either partially or completely blocked. Blockages cause a number of complications, including preventing food and water from passing through the GI tract and decreasing their blood flow. This condition can even have a fatal outcome for your dog within 3-7 days.
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.
Frequently, a dog's bowel obstructions are caused by foreign bodies. Dogs explore the world with their mouths, and that can run the risk of your dog swallowing surprising items: toys, trash, socks, underwear, dish towels… the list goes on! 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.
What are the signs of intestinal blockages in dogs?
How can you tell if your dog has an intestinal blockage? Symptoms of an intestinal blockage could be easy to brush off as merely an upset stomach unless you witnessed your dog swallow a foreign object. Some signs to watch for include:
- Loss of appetite
- Straining or unable to pass stool
- Painful abdomen to the touch
- Aggressive behavior when the abdomen is touched
If you think your dog ingested a foreign object or they are exhibiting the symptoms listed above, call your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Diagnosis for intestinal blockages in dogs
If you saw your dog ingest a foreign object, you might be wondering how you can help your dog pass the obstruction. Do not attempt to do this on your own; your dog needs veterinary care quickly.
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 during which your dog is sedated before the vet inserts a small tube with a tiny attached camera through your dog’s throat and into the stomach.
Treatment for intestinal blockages in dogs
Treatment for intestinal obstructions can be surgical or non-surgical. There are a number of factors that determine the treatment including 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 digital images (ultrasound or X-Rays) to determine where and what the obstruction is.
Some foreign objects pass on their own, given time. When it comes to starting treatment for intestinal blockage in dogs, however, there is no time to waste. If the object does not pass on its own and your dog has the symptoms listed above, your dog needs to be treated as soon as possible.
If your vet determines that the foreign object presents an immediate danger, emergency surgery is ordered.
Intestinal blockage surgery for dogs
Dog intestinal blockage surgery is a major procedure that requires your dog to be anesthetized. After the surgery, your dog will stay at the hospital to recover for several days.
During the intestinal blockage 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 based on whether the vet team needs to repair any damage to the stomach or intestinal wall resulting from the obstruction.
Your dog’s recovery after surgery to remove an intestinal blockage depends on a few things:
- Size, shape, and location of the foreign object
- Length of time foreign object has been stuck in the intestines
- Your dog’s health before 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 surgery. The sooner the surgery is performed, the better.
Your dog's recovery after intestinal blockage surgery
After your dog's intestinal blockage surgery, the next two 72 hours are critical. If the patient is doing well after 72 hours then they typically recover well - though 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, take short walks with your dog — you don’t want their sutures to tear. Your dog will also need to wear a cone or post-surgery collar to keep them from biting at or chewing on the healing incision.
During this time, it’s important to feed your dog small amounts of bland food before gradually transitioning to their previous diet. Also, ensure that they are getting enough fluids to prevent dehydration.
Major surgery is painful for humans and dogs alike. Even though your dog will of course be sedated and feel no pain during surgery, they will probably feel some pain afterward. Your vet will prescribe post-surgery pain medication for your dog. Follow the prescription instructions carefully to keep your dog’s pain under control at home and fight off infections.
Anesthesia can make some dogs feel nauseated after surgery and it’s fairly common for dogs to vomit afterward, so your vet may also prescribe medications to relieve your dog’s nausea and vomiting if necessary.
The cost of surgery
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 so many other factors.
Typically, the cost can range from the high hundreds to the thousands, depending on the details of your dog's unique case. Luckily, the best treatment for intestinal blockages is prevention.
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 reach.
- Be vigilant about items in the house and track when they are missing.
- Keep an eye on your dog while they're playing with 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.