Dogs love to chew on things that aren't food which can lead to a serious issue known as intestinal obstructions. Today, our Yucaipa vets discuss dog intestinal blockages and the surgery that is used to treat this condition.
The Causes of Intestinal Blockages in Dogs
Bowel obstruction is a common cause for concern in all dogs. This occurs when their stomach or intestines have been partly or entirely blocked. 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 3-7 days.
Blockages may occur anywhere along the digestive tract. 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. In older dogs, other common bowel obstructions to watch for are tumors or masses.
What Happens When a dog Experiences an Intestinal Blockage?
A common question is, 'Can a dog die from intestinal blockage?' Sadly, yes.
Left untreated, an intestinal blockage may press against the intestinal wall, leading to damage of 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 a complete intestinal blockage will typically die within 3-4 days.
Given time, some foreign objects can 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.
What Are the Typical Signs of Intestinal Blockage in Dogs?
How can you be sure 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 happened to witness your dog swallowing a foreign object.
That said, we recommend contacting your vet right away if you see any of these symptoms in your dog:
- Aggressive behavior when the abdomen is touched
- Loss of appetite
- Straining or unable to poop
- Painful abdomen to the touch
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.
How Do Vets Diagnose 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. 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. 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 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.
How Are Intestinal Blockages in Dogs Typically Treated?
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. If this is not possible, your vet likely will consult the ultrasound or X-rays to determine where (and what) the obstruction is.
What Happens During Surgery For an Intestinal Blockage?
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 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 veterinary surgery. Of course, the sooner the surgery is performed, the better.
What Should be Expected During Recovery From Intestinal 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 actually common for dogs to vomit afterward. So, your vet may also prescribe medications to relieve your dog’s nausea and vomiting, if needed.
How Much Can You Expect to Pay for Your Dog's Intestinal 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 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.
How You Can Help Prevent Future 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 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.