Dogs are known to occasionally chomp on and occasionally swallow things they shouldn't. Especially when bored to left unattended. Here, our Southern Wisconsin vets talk about the dangers of foreign objects in your dog's digestive system and what to expect if your dog needs intestinal blockage surgery.
What is an intestinal blockage?
A bowel obstruction is when there is a blockage in either the stomach or the intestines. Blockages cause a number of complications, including preventing food and water from passing through his GI tract and decreasing their blood flow. If not treated right away this condition will quickly become fatal.
While we mentioned the stomach and intestines above, blockages can occur anywhere along the 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.
Foreign bodies from swallowed objects make up most of the cases of bowel obstruction. Every pup runs the risk of swallowing surprising items: toys, trash, socks, underwear, dish towels… the list goes on! 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.
What is the timeline for an intestinal blockage?
If an intestinal blockage is left untreated the blockage could press against the intestinal wall leading to damage of the intestines and possibly causing the tissue to die or result in a bowel rupture or perforation. Without immediate treatment, this can cause death in a matter of days.
There have been cases of foreign objects clearing the digestive system on their own, but these cases are rare. When it comes to a timeline for intestinal blockage in dogs, time is of the absolute essence. If the object does not pass on its own and your dog has the symptoms listed above, your dog will need to be treated as soon as possible.
If your vet has completed an examination and diagnostics determining that your dog is experiencing an intestinal blockage, they will likely call for immediate emergency surgery.
The Common Symptoms of Intestinal Blockages
You may be wondering if there are any notable signs that your dog has a blockage that will prompt you to move quickly. Here are the typical symptoms of an intestinal blockage seen in dogs:
- Loss of appetite
- Straining or unable to poop
- Painful abdomen to the touch
- Aggressive behavior when the abdomen is touched
How will the vet diagnose my dog with an intestinal blockage?
If you witnessed your dog swallowing the object then you may wonder why you can't just help get it out at home. The simple answer is that it may cause more harm than good. Always bring your dog to the vet if they've eaten or swallowed something they shouldn't have.
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.
What is the treatment for intestinal blockages in dogs?
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 with intestinal blockage surgery?
Dog intestinal blockage surgery is a major procedure, requiring 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.
How successful are intestinal blockage surgeries in dogs?
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.
What is the cost of surgery for intestinal blockages in dogs?
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. If you would like to find out more about how much you can expect to pay for your dog's emergency surgery, please speak with the veterinary surgeon.
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.