Bowel obstruction surgery in dogs is more common than you might think, especially in dogs that like to swallow things they shouldn’t.
For these dogs, foreign objects such as toys, rocks, bones, yarn, socks, dish towels, and string are all fair game. Unfortunately, this kind of anything goes diet can lead to a partial or complete bowel obstruction.
Rope fibers are especially dangerous because they can cause intestinal twisting.
If your dog tends to swallow things other than food, you have reason to be concerned. Young dogs are especially vulnerable because they love to put things in their mouths.
It’s how they learn about the world around them, but it can also be especially dangerous.
This post is not designed to replace medical advice and is for informational purposes only. Always seek veterinarian care when your dog is unwell for any reason.
We want to help pet owners understand the risks of bowel obstructions in dogs, signs to watch for, and when to get your dog to the veterinarian or emergency vet clinic ASAP.
Signs of Intestinal Blockages in Dogs
Gastrointestinal blockages are common in dogs. Dogs are curious creatures who get a lot of information from smelling and tasting the objects (and people) around them.
Puppies are especially at risk because of their need to chew. Senior dogs are also at risk of a blockage due to a tumor or mass.
The Dangers of Gastrointestinal Blockages in Dogs
Any foreign object can get stuck in a dog’s throat, causing the dog to choke.
If foreign bodies make it to the intestines, they can cause a partial or full blockage.
The body isn’t designed to safely carry foreign material (or non-food material) through the digestive tract. Dogs with intestinal blockages can die from dehydration quickly.
If food and liquids are unable to pass into the digestive system, the dog will lose a lot of weight and will become very weak and tired.
Blockages anywhere along the digestive tract prevent food and water from passing through. Without treatment a dog can day within 3-7 days.
Signs of a complete bowel obstruction in dogs
Puppies, older dogs, and curious adult dogs are all at risk of bowel obstruction. The onset of symptoms may be acute or chronic, depending on the cause of the obstruction.
Common symptoms of a complete bowel obstruction include:
- Abdominal pain
Dogs will try to hide their pain so watch for things like abdominal stretching (prayer position), a swollen belly, restlessness or guarding the belly, arched back, unusual panting, wide eyes or “whale eye”.
Watch this video on what to do if your dog swallows an object:
Signs of a partial bowel obstruction in dogs
The signs of a partial bowel obstruction may not be as severe, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not dangerous. Partial or complete bowel obstructions can still lead to intestinal perforation or rupture.
They can cause extreme discomfort, dangerous fluid loss, and death.
Pet parents should pay particular attention to the following signs of a partial bowel obstruction:
- Occasional or infrequent vomiting
- Progressive weight loss
- Decreased appetite
5 Reasons For Bowel Obstruction Surgery in Dogs
We said it before, but it’s worth saying again…dogs love to put things in their mouths that they’re not supposed to. Dog owners know exactly how fast dogs can swallow something they shouldn’t.
Sometimes, you don’t even know your dog has swallowed something weird until it passes through the rectum. If that does happen, it’s a good idea to have your dog checked to ensure there’s nothing else trying to make its way through!
The following are 5 of the most common reasons for bowel obstructions in dogs. Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive. It should, however, give you an idea of what to keep away from your dog, especially new puppies.
Bones pose a risk of bowel obstruction in dogs, especially if they are large, sharp, or brittle. In addition to the risk of choking, bones can become lodged in the dog’s intestines, leading to bowel obstruction.
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It’s important to choose toys that are appropriate for the size and strength of your dog. Aggressive chewers, for example, could easily swallow a piece of toy that has broken off. Like bones, certain toys can pose a choking risk.
In addition, toys that break off can become get stuck in the intestinal tract, leading to a blockage.
Pieces of clothing
It’s amazing that some dogs can swallow pieces of clothing without choking, but it happens all the time. Missing a baby’s sock or underwear? Your dog may be the culprit.
Some dogs will eventually pass the material, but many will not.
String, yarn or thread
String, such as thread, yarn, or even dental floss are especially dangerous for dogs to swallow. When a dog ingests string, for example, it can become entangled or looped around various structures within the digestive system.
This is known as a linear foreign object obstruction and it’s extremely dangerous.
Dogs love to sniff the ground and scarf up whatever they find interesting. Unfortunately, that means they can easily swallow something they shouldn’t.
Would your dog eat rocks? The thing is, your dog might be interested in a piece of food left on the ground and the little rock next to it came along for the ride.
Or your dog eats rocks.
Either way, that rock can not only cause a bowel obstruction, it can also cause serious damage to the intestinal lining.
Diagnosing Bowel Obstruction in Dogs
Blockages can develop at any point in the digestive system. For example, a blockage could pass through the esophagus, but not the stomach.
Others may enter the stomach but not the intestines, or they may become caught in the twists and turns of a dog’s intestines.
If you suspect your dog has swallowed a foreign object, it’s important to get him or her to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Of course, you may not be aware that has happened until your dog starts showing some of the signs noted earlier in this post.
In order to make a definitive diagnosis, the veterinarian may go through the following tests:
A physical examination for suspected bowel blockage will include manual palpation of your dog’s tummy. The veterinarian will look for signs of pain and may take your dog’s temperature, listen to your dog’s heart, check the dog’s ears, etc. as a matter of protocol.
The reason for all of this would be to rule out other causes of pain, lethargy, low appetite, etc., like infection.
Blood tests can help evaluate how the blockage is affecting your dog’s immediate health.
An x-ray may be ordered to see if the foreign object is visible.
This procedure involves threading a small tube with a tiny camera attached down your dog’s throat. The tube is moved into the stomach so that the veterinarian can visualize any blockages present.
Bowel Obstruction Surgery in Dogs: What to Expect
Bowel obstruction surgery in dogs is a major procedure. Your dog will need to be anesthetized and may need to remain in hospital for several days after the surgery.
The surgery involves making an incision into the dog’s abdomen hear the blockage site. From there, the surgeon will attempt to remove the foreign object. Any damage to the stomach or intestinal wall will also need to be repaired.
Survival Rate of Bowel Obstruction Surgery in Dogs
A dog’s survival after bowel obstruction surgery depends on a few things, including the following:
- Timeliness of intervention
- Extent of the obstruction
- Whether the dog has underlying conditions
- Whether there are complications (perforation of the intestinal wall, for example)
If the intestinal wall ruptures, the contents of the intestine (digestive fluid and bacteria) can leak into the abdominal cavity. This leads to a condition known as peritonitis, which is characterized by inflammation and infection.
Sadly, this could have life-threatening consequences.
It’s just not possible to keep your eyes glued to your dog 24/7. However, there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of a bowel obstruction.
Bringing a new puppy home?
Crawl around the floor and pick up any objects that your dog could swallow. Going out to the park or for a walk? Dogs are at risk anytime they are outside. They see and smell things long before we do. Remember that whatever is at the end of their nose is a potential risk.
The signs of a bowel obstruction can also mimic other potentially serious conditions. You know your dog better than anyone, so don’t delay if something isn’t right. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
A licensed veterinarian should be your only source of medical advice on the health of your dog.