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Bowel Obstruction in Dogs

Does your dog have a habit of eating things they shouldn't? If so, there's potential for a bowel obstruction to occur. Today, our Turlock vets discuss common causes of bowel obstructions and why urgent veterinary care is imperative. 

The Causes of Bowel Obstructions in Dogs

Also called intestinal blockages, bowel obstructions in dogs can threaten your pet's life. They often occur when a dog's stomach or intestines become partially or totally blocked.

Obstructions can result in various complications, including the prevention of food and water from passing through your pooch's GI tract, reducing blood flow. Bowel obstructions in dogs can also turn fatal within 3 to 7 days. 

Obstructions can occur anywhere within a dog's digestive tract. While some may be able to reach the esophagus, they may stop before entering the stomach. Others might make their way to the stomach but not get to the intestines. They can also become lodged in the intricate twists and turns of a dog's intestines. 

Foreign bodies are among the most common types of bowel obstructions. Every dog faces the risk of swallowing all kinds of surprising items, from socks and underwear to yarn, thread, toys and dish towels. These objects are especially hazardous to dogs as they can cause intestinal twisting. For older dogs, masses and tumors are the most common bowel obstructions you should watch for. 

Symptoms of Bowel Obstructions in Dogs

How do you know if your dog is suffering from a bowel obstruction? Signs of intestinal blockages or bowel obstructions in dogs can include:

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

While you may be tempted to brush off the symptoms listed above as an upset stomach unless you've seen your dog swallow a foreign object, it's imperative to call your veterinarian as quickly as possible if you suspect your dog has ingested something suspicious or they are displaying signs of a bowel obstruction. 

Whether a bowel obstruction happens to your dog or cat, life-saving surgery may be required. 

Diagnosing Bowel Obstructions in Dogs

Have you seen your dog eat a foreign object? You may be wondering how you can help your dog pass the obstruction. However, we strongly advise pet owners not to try this on your own - your dog will need emergency veterinary care. 

First, your vet will conduct a physical exam on your dog, paying special attention to the abdomen. They may also recommend blood work to discover whether the blockage is impacting your dog's overall health. 

From there, your dog will be referred to our in-house diagnostic lab for X-rays and any other imaging tests needed to identify and assess the foreign object. An endoscopy is one such test. During this procedure, a small tube with a tiny camera attached is inserted into your dog's throat to examine the stomach. Your dog would be sedated for this procedure. 

Treatment for Bowel Obstruction in Dogs

Surgical and non-surgical treatment options may be considered for bowel obstructions. Many factors can influence your vet's decision regarding the most suitable treatment option, including the location of the blockage and how long the object has been stuck, along with the structure, size and shape 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. Depending on your pet's circumstances, the surgery may be performed in-house at Monte Vista Small Animal Hospital or you may be referred to a board-certified veterinary surgeon near Turlock.

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.

During this veterinary 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 by a veterinarian or vet surgeon, 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.

Is your dog displaying symptoms of a bowel obstruction? Contact our vets at Monte Vista Small Animal Hospital today.

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Monte Vista Small Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Turlock companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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