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Intestinal Blockages in Dogs: Symptoms & Treatment

If your dog has a habit of gulping down items they shouldn't, like socks or toys, they could be at risk of an intestinal blockage. Today, our Bonita Springs vets discuss the symptoms and treatment, including emergency surgery, for intestinal blockages in dogs. 

Intestinal Blockages in Dogs

If your dog has eaten a foreign object that can't naturally be digested they may be at risk for an intestinal blockage. Blockages can occur anywhere along the digestive tract. Some items may be able to pass into the esophagus, but not into the stomach. Others may pass into the stomach but not into the intestines. 

Every pup runs the risk of 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.

In some cases, an intestinal blockage can be caused by another underlying issue such as masses or tumors. This is more common in older dogs. 

Intestinal blockages are considered veterinary emergencies and if you notice any of the symptoms below you you should take your pet to the nearest emergency pet hospital immediately. 

What are the signs of intestinal blockages in dogs?

How do you know if your dog has an intestinal blockage? Dog intestinal blockage symptoms can easily be brushed off as an upset stomach unless you witnessed your dog swallow a foreign object. However, the following symptoms should never be ignored, particularly if you know your dog has eaten something they shouldn't of: 

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

When it comes to symptom onset, your dog's intestinal blockage timeline largely depends on where the blockage occurs. Symptoms could begin immediately or could take up to 24 hours to start showing up. This is why it's best to consult with a vet anytime your dog eats a foreign object.

Diagnoses of Intestinal Blockages in Dogs

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 first perform a physical exam on your dog, paying special attention to the abdomen. From there, your vet will complete additional diagnostic testing, such as X-rays or an endoscopy to try and locate the ingested object and determine if it poses a risk for your pup. 

Treatment for Intestinal Blockages in Dogs

Treatment for intestinal obstructions can be surgical or non-surgical. Many factors go into this decision including the location, 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. Some foreign objects, given time, can pass on their own. However, in many cases, emergency surgery will be required to remove the object and save your dog's life. 

Intestinal Blockage Surgery for Dogs

Dog intestinal blockage surgery is a major procedure, requiring your dog to be anesthetized. After the surgery, your dog will stay at the hospital and recover for several 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. 

Your dog’s survival after surgery to remove an intestinal blockage depends on a few things:

  • Size, shape, and location of the foreign object
  • How long the foreign object has been stuck in the intestines
  • Your dog’s health before the 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. Of course, the sooner the surgery is performed, the better.

Recovery After Intestinal Blockage 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, it is important to follow your vet's instructions carefully, monitor your dog, and keep their activity level very low. Your dog will also need to wear a cone to keep them from chewing on the healing incision.

Your vet will tell you how to begin reintroducing food to your dog as they recover. They will most likely need to start with small portions of bland, easy-to-digest food. 

Major surgery is painful. Your dog won’t be in pain during the surgery, of course, but 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 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 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, the diagnostic tests required, and other factors. Your vet will give you an estimate of the cost before they begin surgery. 

The good news is that there are ways to prevent this from happening to your pet in the first place.

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. 

  • Put things your dog may eat out of their reach.
  • Keep garbage and food waste bins secure and away from your pup. 
  • Avoid giving your dog bones or rawhide as chew toys as pieces can easily break off and pose a blockage risk. 
  • Do not leave your dog unsupervised around items they may be able to chew and eat. 

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.

At Southwest Florida Veterinary Specialists we offer 24/7 emergency services. If your dog is showing signs of an intestinal blockage contact our Bonita Springs vets right away. 

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