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Bowel obstruction in dogs, also known as a gastrointestinal blockage, is a common canine problem. Dogs are naturally curious, and many dogs have a desire to eat or chew almost anything. All dogs are at risk for potential GI blockages, but young dogs are especially vulnerable. Puppies tend to be more eager to put every object into their mouths. After all, puppies are often teething and looking for something to chew.
Here’s what to know about a bowel instruction in dogs, including what to do if you suspect one has occurred.
What Is a Bowel Obstruction in Dogs?
A bowel obstruction is a complete or partial blockage in the stomach or intestines, which prevents solids or liquids from passing through the gastrointestinal tract. This blockage can also decrease blood flow and cause portions of your dog’s bowels to deteriorate, as well as the absorption of toxic contents.
Linear foreign objects (like string, rope, and carpet fibers) can cause the intestines to bunch into each other, sort of like a telescope. Bowel obstructions can also be secondary due to a dog ingesting foreign objects or materials. In some cases, however, especially with seniors, the cause of a bowel obstruction may be a tumor or mass.
Symptoms of Bowel Obstruction in Dogs
Dog bowel obstruction symptoms can include:
- Vomiting (especially if your dog is vomiting repetitively)
- Loss of appetite
- Dehydration (since your dog may be struggling to hold down any water)
- Abdominal pain
What Causes Bowel Obstruction In Dogs?
Most frequently, bowel obstructions happen when a dog ingests foreign objects, such as toys, rocks, or bones. These objects can’t pass through the intestines, so they become lodged in your dog’s system. Having these items stuck internally can also cause perforation (holes) of the stomach and intestines.
Occasionally, other medical conditions can cause bowel obstruction in dogs. Other possible causes of dog bowel obstruction include masses or dog tumors, twisting of the intestines around the membrane that separates them from the abdominal wall, pyloric stenosis (narrowing of the passage from the stomach to the small intestine), hernias in dogs, and intestinal parasites like worms.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Bowel Obstruction in Dogs
“You should seek veterinary attention for your dog as soon as you suspect they may have ingested something that could cause a blockage,” says Dr. Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer for the AKC. “Left untreated, it could result in extensive discomfort, severe fluid loss, intestinal rupture, and even death. In the meantime, do not give your dog any more food until the problem is resolved.”
Your veterinarian will likely perform a physical exam. They will probably also perform either a radiograph or ultrasound, which will try to confirm whether or not a foreign object or mass is present. Sometimes, if the object is the right size and may still be in the stomach, your vet may perform an endoscopy. An endoscopy involves inserting a thin tube with a camera down your dog’s throat, attached to a small, clasping mechanism, in hopes of retrieving the foreign object.
A vet will also give your dog fluids to deal with canine dehydration. They may also prescribe medications to help with vomiting and nausea, as well as pain medications for dogs. If an object does not pass into the dog’s stool, or if your veterinarian feels the object has been lodged too long, your dog may need surgery under anesthesia. That way, vets can open the abdomen or intestine and remove the cause of the blockage. “A dog owner should never pull a foreign object that is protruding from the dog’s rectum because it might cause serious damage,” says Dr. Klein.
After treatment, you should follow your veterinarian’s recommendations and monitor your dog for any recurring symptoms. Keep activity level low, so no running or long walks for a few days. Feed a bland diet of dry dog food with no treats for several days before slowly re-introducing the previous diet. Also, make sure to replenish lost fluids by offering them lots of fresh water to avoid dehydration.
Preventing Bowel Obstruction in Dogs
The best way to prevent bowel obstruction is to discourage and block your dog from trying to eat certain types of bones, sticks, rocks, and similar objects. Keep foods that are toxic to dogs and other temptations, including garbage cans, out of reach (and consider trying a dog-proof garbage can).
Teaching the “leave it” command can prevent your dog from attempting to explore something harmful. Only give your pet dog toys and dog treats that are safe and appropriate for them to chew. Call your veterinarian immediately if you think your dog has eaten something unusual.