Dogs tend to lick and chew on things that they shouldn't. This can lead to several health issues like blockages. Here, our vets in Madison talk about the dangers of intestinal blockage in dogs, the symptoms, and how surgery can be used to remove the foreign body.

How Dog Intestinal Blockages Happen

All dogs are at risk of intestinal obstruction regardless of their age, breed, or size. This blockage could either be partial or complete. Blockages can potentially cause numerous complications, including preventing food and water from passing through the GI tract and decreasing blood flow. Intestinal blockages can even cause fatal complications within three to seven days. 

Any section of your dog's digestive tract is at risk of becoming obstructed. While some may be able to pass into the esophagus, they may not reach the stomach. Others may enter the stomach but not the intestines, or become lodged within the intricate twists and turns of a dog's intestines. 

Foreign bodies are the most frequent cause of bowel obstructions. Every pooch faces the risk of swallowing a surprising range of items, from trash and toys to dish towels, underwear, socks, rope, and more, the list goes on. Yarn, string, and rope fibers are particularly hazardous for dogs as they can cause the intestines to twist. If you have an older dog they may be more likely to experience obstructions from tumors than objects.

Dog Intestinal Blockage Timeline

A common question is, 'Can a dog die from intestinal blockage?' Unfortunately, the answer to this question is yes.

Left untreated, an intestinal blockage may press against the intestinal wall, leading to damage to the intestines and potentially causing tissue to die. It can also lead to a perforation or rupture in the bowel. Without appropriate treatment, dogs with complete intestinal blockage will typically die within three to four days. 

Some intestinal blockages do have the ability to pass on their own. However, when it comes to estimating a timeline for intestinal blockage in dogs, time is critical. If your dog's system does not pass the object on its own and your pup is showing symptoms listed in this post, treatment will need to be administered as soon as possible. 

If your veterinarian determines that the foreign object presents an immediate danger, emergency surgery will be ordered. If your dog displays any of the common intestinal blockage symptoms listed below, seek emergency veterinary care

Dog Intestinal Blockage Symptoms

So how will you know if your dog has an intestinal blockage? It can be easy to brush off symptoms of intestinal blockages as merely an upset stomach unless you happen to witness your dog swallowing a foreign object. 

That said, we recommend contacting your vet right away if you see the signs of an intestinal blockage in your dog. Some of the most common signs include:

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

If you suspect your dog has ingested something they shouldn't have or they are displaying symptoms listed above, call your veterinarian as soon as possible, or contact your nearest animal emergency center.

Diagnosing Dog Intestinal Blockages

When your dog swallows something you may immediately try to figure out if you can help them. Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do to help on your own and you should seek veterinary guidance right away.

Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam with a focus on the area surrounding the stomach. They may also perform blood work to determine if the blockage is affecting your dog’s overall health.

Your vet may then request that your dog have diagnostic imaging and tests to help determine the size and location of the 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.

Treatments For Intestinal Blockage in Dogs

There are both surgical and non-surgical treatments for intestinal blockage depending on the circumstances. 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. If this does not provide the necessary information your vet will then request other forms of diagnostic imaging to help.

Intestinal Blockage Surgery for Dogs

If surgery is determined to be the best option for your dog, they will be placed under anesthetic. Once the procedure is complete, your vet will keep your dog for observation. How long your day stays depends on the outcome of the procedure and how your dog responds in the following hours and 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 outcome for your dog after surgery will depend on several factors including:

  • 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 veterinary surgery. Of course, the sooner the surgery is performed, the better.

Dogs' 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, monitor your dog and keep their activity level very low. Stick to short walks for at least a week — you don’t want their sutures to tear. Your dog will also need to wear a cone to keep them from chewing on the healing incision.

It’s important to feed your dog small amounts of bland food before gradually transitioning to his previous diet during this time. Also, make sure they are getting enough fluids to prevent dehydration.

Major surgery is painful. Your dog won’t be in pain during the surgery, of course, but will probably feel some discomfort afterward. Your veterinary surgeon will prescribe post-surgery pain medication for your dog. Be sure to follow the prescription instructions carefully to effectively manage your dog's pain at home and fight off infections.

Anesthesia can make some dogs feel nauseated after surgery and it’s common for dogs to vomit afterward. So, your vet may also prescribe medications to relieve your dog’s nausea and vomiting, if needed.

Dog Intestinal Blockage Surgery Cost

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 other factors such as the overall health of your dog, age of your dog, and even where you live. To get an accurate estimate of how much your dog's intestinal blockage surgery will cost you must speak to your vet or veterinary surgeon.

Preventing Intestinal Blockages in Dogs

To prevent your dog from eating anything that is not food, you should consider a few things such as:

  • Putting things your dog may eat out of his 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 his 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.

If you believe that your dog may have swallowed something they shouldn't have, please contact our Madison veterinary team as soon as possible.