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Signs and treatment of bowel obstructions in dogs

Signs and treatment of bowel obstructions in dogs

If your dog seems to chew and eat everything in their path, you may be worried about the possibility of a bowel obstruction. Today, our New Hope vets talk more about signs of bowel obstructions in dogs and the importance of urgent treatment.

The Causes of Bowel Obstructions in Dogs

Bowel obstructions (also called intestinal blockages) often develop when a dog's stomach or intestines become partially or completely blocked. Obstructions can lead to various serious complications, including the prevention of food and water from passing through your dog's GI tract, decreasing their blood flow. Bowel obstructions in dogs are dangerous because they could be fatal within 3-7 days.

Obstructions can occur anywhere along a dog's 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.

The most common types of bowel obstructions are caused by foreign bodies. Every pooch is at risk of swallowing surprising items such as underwear, socks, dish towels, and toys. 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.

The Signs & Symptoms of Bowel Obstructions in Dogs

How do you know if your dog has a bowel obstruction? Here are some common symptoms and signs of intestinal blockages in dogs:

  • Straining or unable to defecate
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Reacting with pain or aggression behavior when the abdomen is touched
  • Restlessness
  • Whining
  • Dehydration
  • Bloating

It can be easy to brush off the symptoms above as merely an upset stomach unless you have seen your dog swallow a foreign object. But, if you think your dog ingested something suspicious or they are exhibiting the signs detailed above, it's imperative to call your veterinarian as quickly as possible.

Diagnosing Bowel Obstructions in Dogs

If you witness your dog eat a foreign object, you might be wondering how you can help your dog pass the obstruction. Do 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 techniques needed to get a clearer picture of 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.

Treatment for Bowel Obstruction in Dogs

There are both surgical and non-surgical treatments available for bowel obstructions. The type of treatment that your vet recommends will depend on several elements such as the location of the blockage, how long the object has been stuck, as well as the size, shape, and structure 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 be passed naturally, given time. However, when it comes to 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 pet requires urgent treatment as quickly as possible.

Your vet will order surgery if they determine that the foreign object presents an immediate danger.

Bowel Obstruction Surgery for Dogs

Bowel obstruction surgery is a major procedure for dogs, and your pup will be safely anesthetized. After the surgery, your dog will need to stay at the hospital for a few days to recover.

During 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:

  • 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 before your pet's surgery help them to gain a better understanding of how well your dog will recover following surgery. However the faster the surgery can be performed, the better.

Your Dog's Post-Surgery Recovery

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 generally recuperate well, but there are still some potential complications including:

  • 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.

Preventing Bowel Obstructions in Dogs

As with many things, prevention is probably the best cure. Limiting your dog's chances of ingesting non-food materials is a great way to help prevent intestinal blockages.

  • Put 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.
  • Prevent your dogs from scavenging through garbage and debris (inside and outside).

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.

Do you think your dog might have a bowel obstruction? Contact our New Hope vets immediately to arrange an urgent care appointment. For after-hours assistance visit the emergency veterinary clinic closest to you.

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