My Dog Has An Intestinal Blockage

Unfortunately, intestinal blockages are a common health complication in our canine friends. Dogs are known for eating things they should not, leading to the potential for life-threatening obstructions.

So what comes next when your dog is diagnosed with an intestinal blockage?

In this article we will discuss the details of intestinal blockages in dogs, and help you understand the treatment options that are available to your pup.

What Is An Intestinal Blockage In Dogs?

My Dog Has An Intestinal Blockage

If your dog is diagnosed with an intestinal blockage of some kind, there can be a few different complications occurring within their GI tract.

There are varying degrees of intestinal blockages and foreign bodies, all of which should be explained in detail by your veterinarian.

An intestinal blockage in dogs can occur when your dog consumes something that is challenging for their body to digest properly.

This can lead to the item creating a blockage in the intestines or stomach, making it difficult for other contents of the GI tract to pass through.

This foreign material can cause a partial or complete obstruction, leading to a slew of complications to follow.

Not only is it a serious issue when other digested material cannot pass through the digestive tract naturally, but this can lead to other localized complications as well.

When digested material builds up due to an intestinal blockage, this will soon lead to inflammation and bacteria buildup within that segment of the intestines. Not only can this become incredibly painful as time passes, but it can cause the intestines to rupture due to decreased circulation to the area.

If the intestines do happen to rupture at this point, this can lead to a life-threatening infection in the abdomen known as peritonitis.

A dog can become septic before the intestines even rupture, as bacteria can make its way into the dog’s bloodstream through the injured portion of the intestines.

Even if a dog receives aggressive medical care in this situation, it can still be fatal. As you can see, something as simple as consuming a foreign object can lead to serious complications for our canine friends.

What Causes Intestinal Blockages In Dogs?

In most cases, intestinal blockages in dogs are caused by eating something that cannot be broken down by the digestive process.

This can include items ranging from tennis balls to shoelaces, as long as it creates some form of blockage when traveling through the intestines.

Some of the most common objects that cause intestinal obstructions in dogs include:

  • Toy material
  • Tennis balls
  • Hair ties
  • Bones, dog bones and bones from meat products
  • Rawhides
  • Tampons
  • Diapers
  • Sticks
  • Rocks
  • Socks (very common)
  • Clothing
  • Cat litter

Not only can these objects become lodged as they pass through the GI tract, but they can also lead to linear foreign bodies.

A linear foreign body is most common in objects that contain some form of string or tie that hangs loose from the object. A linear foreign body occurs when one end of a string anchors itself at some point along the intestines, while the rest of the string continues to pass.

This will cause the intestine to collapse on itself as the rest of the string continues to travel, resulting in obstruction in the collapsed area.

Some of the most common objects that cause linear foreign bodies in dogs include:

  • Shoelaces
  • String from yarn bundles
  • Clothing
  • Tampons

Though not as common, intestinal blockages can occur due to causes outside of dietary indiscretion. Some dogs can develop complications such as intestinal tumors, GI inflammation, intussusception, and other conditions that can lead to an obstruction of some kind.

No matter the exact cause of your dog’s intestinal blockage, most obstructions cause many of the same symptoms in our canine friends.

To help you have a better idea of what to look for, let’s discuss the most common symptoms below.

Symptoms Of An Intestinal Blockage In Dogs

Intestinal blockages can have multiple causes, but the symptoms of obstruction are typically the same.

Foreign bodies lead to a blockage in the digestive tract, so most symptoms will reflect that directly.

Some of the most common signs of an intestinal blockage in dogs include:

  • Vomiting, often excessive
  • Drooling
  • Inability to keep down food or water
  • Anorexia
  • Lethargy
  • Abdominal pain or tenderness
  • Hunched appearance, or appearing guarded
  • Restlessness, especially when trying to get comfortable
  • Refusing to lay down, or appearing restless when trying to rest
  • Diarrhea, in the beginning stages of the obstruction
  • Straining when trying to pass stool
  • Increased gas
  • Abdominal bloating

If you notice any of the above symptoms in your canine companion, it’s best to reach out to your veterinarian for further guidance.

Even if your dog is not known to eat random objects, these symptoms can point to other serious medical concerns as well.

How To Diagnose Intestinal Blockages In Dogs

If you think your pup may be experiencing an intestinal blockage, you may be wondering what you can expect at your vet’s office in terms of diagnostics.

Though every case will vary based on your dog’s symptoms, you can typically expect your vet to recommend the following.

X-rays

If your vet thinks your dog is at risk of intestinal obstruction, your vet will likely recommend abdominal radiographs.

X-rays will allow your vet to search for any sign of obstructive patterns, along with searching for any sign of visible foreign objects in the GI tract.

If there are any obstructive patterns on your dog’s x-rays, your vet can then determine how likely it is for your dog to pass the object on their own, or if they will require surgery. 

Ultrasound

X-ray is often a more accessible option in terms of searching for an intestinal obstruction, but ultrasound is a wonderful option as well.

Ultrasound can often be more helpful in terms of seeing any material that does not show up on x-ray, especially when diagnosing linear foreign bodies

Bloodwork

Blood diagnostics will not diagnose a foreign body in a dog, but it is a wonderful tool to have alongside diagnostic imaging.

Blood work can help your vet paint a clear picture of your dog’s overall health, whether or not they are dealing with an active infection, and if there are any red flags that could impact their prognosis.

Treating Intestinal Blockages In Dogs

If your dog is diagnosed with an intestinal blockage, there are different levels of treatment based on how severe their case is.

Only your vet can determine the best plan of action for your dog, but let’s discuss a few of the options that are usually on the table.

Hospitalization & Monitoring

If your vet is unable to determine whether or not surgery is necessary, or if the foreign body is in a spot that makes it possible to pass, hospitalization and monitoring can be an option.

For example, if the foreign object is far enough in the digestive tract that passing it on their own is a possibility, surgery may not be the first option on the table.

Your vet may suggest keeping your dog in the hospital on IV fluids to help hydrate the intestines, and perform x-rays in 12 hours to monitor their progress.

If the item has moved from its original spot and is on the way to passing, your vet may suggest continuing these efforts until the item passes. If the foreign body passes and other complications do not develop, your pup should be in the clear.

For example, my dog ingested a large amount of kitty litter and landed herself in the hospital. The kitty litter caused an obstruction in her intestines, and required emergency medical care to stabilize her. After 24 hours in the hospital on IV fluids, she was able to pass the obstruction on her own.

Hospitalization and monitoring allowed us to take surgery off the table, and helped her avoid a serious health complication.

Keep in mind that this is only an option if the foreign body shows signs of being able to pass without surgery, and if a dog is not experiencing critical complications.

Some items just will not pass on their own, or have been present too long to avoid surgery. Time is critical when dealing with intestinal obstructions, so if the vet feels that emergency surgery is necessary in your dog’s case, then that is the route you should take.

Foreign Body Surgery

If the intestinal obstruction cannot be resolved with hospitalization and fluid therapy, then exploratory surgery will be required.

This will involve your vet taking your dog to surgery to search for the intestinal obstruction, and remove the item or material that is causing the blockage. This surgery will also involve searching for any damaged intestinal tissue and looking for evidence of infection to the region.

If your vet observes any tissue necrosis or serious damage to the region, the chances of postoperative complications will increase.

If all goes well throughout your dog’s foreign body surgery, they will typically recommend 48-72 hours in the hospital after their procedure. This will involve fluid therapy, pain control, and monitoring for any sign of complications.

Once your pup has been cleared of complications and is well enough to be cared for at home, your pup should be discharged without issue.

They will typically be prescribed antibiotics and pain control for 7-14 days, and will have a follow up appointment to remove any stitches.

Intestinal Resection and Anastomosis

If any tissue in your dog’s intestinal tract is damaged to the point of needing resection (removal), this will require an intestinal resection and anastomosis.

This simply means to remove a portion of the intestines and attach the two remaining sections, creating a new channel with only healthy tissue.

While this can be a life-saving measure for dogs with severe intestinal obstructions, it can increase their risk of postoperative complications.

If your dog requires a resection and anastomosis, they will typically need to be monitored in the hospital for at least 72 hours after their procedure. This will involve fluid therapy, pain control, antibiotic administration, and around the clock monitoring.

If there is any sepsis or serious infection present in your dog’s case, their time in the hospital may be more involved.

If your vet feels comfortable with your dog heading home at the 72 hour mark, they will send you home with thorough instructions on how to properly care for them over the next 14 days.

You will typically be sent home with antibiotics and pain control for the next 2 weeks, and will have a follow up appointment to remove any stitches.

Average Cost Of Intestinal Obstructions In Dogs

Not only is an intestinal obstruction in dogs a serious health complication, but it is typically an expensive one as well.

The average cost will vary based on how severe your dog’s case is, but let’s break down a few of the standard costs to help you have a better idea of what to expect.

  • Physical exam: $75-$150
  • Abdominal x-rays: $150-$350
  • Abdominal ultrasound: $200-$400
  • Hospitalization & monitoring: $1,500-$3,000
  • Foreign body surgery: $2,000-$4,000

As you can see, this can be a pricey condition in our canine friends. The best way to offer your pup the best chance at recovery, and keep the tab as low as possible, is through early detection and immediate veterinary care.

Prognosis & Recovery Of Intestinal Blockage In Dogs

If your dog receives appropriate medical care when experiencing an intestinal obstruction, then their prognosis is generally good.

Complications can always occur along the way, so a close relationship with your veterinarian is always essential. As long as their obstruction is diagnosed early and you follow the guidance of your veterinarian, most dogs make a full recovery.

However, there are a few factors that can lead to a more guarded prognosis. Intestinal obstructions can be potentially fatal when vet care is not sought at the first sign of illness, foreign body surgery is declined, or if your dog requires extensive resections during their procedure.

Intestinal obstructions can be a serious threat to our furry friend’s health and should be dealt with quickly.

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