Dogs like to chew on things, and while these are their toys most of the time, they can be quick to eat something they're not supposed to when you look away. Here, our Nashua vets talk about how ingesting foreign objects can harm your pup and what to expect if your dog needs intestinal blockage surgery.
What happens when your dog has an intestinal blockage?
Blockages or bowel obstructions usually occur in either the stomach or 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.
Bowel obstruction is most commonly caused by the ingestion of a foreign object. 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. Sometimes, in older dogs, the cause of the obstruction is a growth, such as a mass or tumor.
Your dog has an intestinal blockage, what's the timeline?
If your dog has swallowed something and you aren't sure if you should call the vet, you may wonder 'Can a dog die from 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 a complete examination and diagnostics point to an intestinal blockage, your vet will likely call for immediate emergency surgery.
Symptoms of Intestinal Blockages in Dogs
In case you weren't a witness to the swallowing, you may wonder if there are any obvious signs of an intestinal blockage. The common signs of an intestinal blockage in dogs include:
- Loss of appetite
- Straining or unable to poop
- Painful abdomen to the touch
- Aggressive behavior when the abdomen is touched
If you have seen your dog ingest a foreign object or has a potential intestinal blockage and is showing the symptoms listed above, call your veterinarian as soon as possible, or contact your nearest animal emergency center.
How will the vet diagnose my dog with an intestinal blockage?
You may have seen the dog eat the object, which can lead you to consider removing it yourself. This is not recommended as it can cause more harm than good. If your dog has swallowed something they shouldn't have, you should bring them to the vet immediately.
The first step will be an examination with a focus on the abdomen to locate the object. 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
During the surgery, the veterinarian or vet surgeon will create an incision in the abdomen, closely located to the object. They will then carefully remove the foreign object and close the opening. The length of surgery can vary because they may need to repair any damage to the stomach or intestinal wall resulting from the obstruction.
The outcome of your dog's surgery will have a few considerations:
- 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 first 72 hours after the completion of surgery are critical to the prognosis. 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)
While your dog is recovering from surgery, you will need to limit their movement and activity. 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.
How much does dog intestinal blockage surgery cost?
There are a number of contributing factors when it comes to the cost of intestinal blockage surgery. Some of these factors include:
- Breed of dog
- Age of your dog
- Complexity of the surgery
- Whether the surgery is performed by your primary vet or a specialist
- The location of the clinic
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.