Dr Tracy Douglas
Your guide to this review today is by veterinarian Dr Tracy Douglas
Published 13:18 pm

As anyone who has a dog can attest to, our furry friends occasionally eat things they aren’t supposed to. This is often no cause for concern, but sometimes this foreign body can cause real problems—like blocking the gastrointestinal tract.

In this guide, we discuss everything owners need to know about dog or puppy intestinal blockages: how to spot them, what you can do to treat your pet at home, and when to seek veterinary attention.

Sad dog lying on a chair

Symptoms of Dog Intestinal Blockage

When a dog suffers from a gastrointestinal or bowel blockage, it means that the flow of food and water through their bodies has been partially blocked. A blockage can also prevent blood from reaching the area of your dog’s digestive tract where the blockage is.

The blockage can form anywhere in the digestive tract. The most common places for blockages to form are:

  • The stomach
  • The small intestine
  • The large intestine

If your dog is suffering from a bowel blockage, you’ll almost certainly notice. Below are some signs of intestinal blockage in dogs to watch out for:

  • Vomiting: if your pooch is struggling to keep down their food, a gastrointestinal blockage could be the culprit.
  • Diarrhoea or constipation: unusual feces provides another hint that your dog’s digestive system isn’t working as it should.
  • Stomach or bowel pain: when your dog experiences pain in these areas, you can expect to hear them yelping or growling out of context, or sitting in a strange position to avoid putting pressure on their stomach.
  • Lethargy: low energy levels are another sign that something isn’t right with your dog.
  • Loss of appetite: if your dog’s digestive tract has been partially blocked, they will most likely express less interest in food.
  • Weight loss: finally, dogs who are suffering from bowel obstruction may lose weight as their food intake and ability to properly digest is affected.

Causes of Dog Stomach Blockages

Although most intestinal blockages are triggered by your dog consuming a non-food item, sometimes other causes can be at play.

Below are the most common causes of intestinal blockages in dogs:

  • Ingesting something they shouldn’t

According to the pet insurance provider PDSA, vets in their network see over 2,700 cases of dogs swallowing something they shouldn’t every single year. When your dog swallows certain items, they can become lodged somewhere along the digestive tract, preventing the usual digestive process from taking place. Common items that cause a blockage include:

  • Bones
  • String
  • Plastic toys
  • Socks and other items of clothing
  • Corn on the cob
  • Children’s dummies
  • Balls
  • Tumours

A tumour at some point along your dog’s digestive tract can also act as a blockage. Dogs develop tumours for a number of different reasons, and if this turns out to be the cause of an intestinal blockage your vet will be able to tell you more.

  • Pyloric stenosis

Brachycephalic breeds like pugs and bulldogs are also prone to a condition known as pyloric stenosis. This occurs when the pyloric sphincter—the ring of muscle between the stomach and small intestine—thickens, and obstructs the flow of digesting foods.

  • Parasites

Intestinal parasites like ringworm can also obstruct your dog’s digestive pathway. When the parasites breed too much or grow too large, their mass can prevent food moving through your dog’s digestive system as it should.

German shepherd dog lying

The Damage Bowel Obstruction Can Do

If you suspect that your dog has a blockage in their gastrointestinal tract, you should seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.

Although these blockages might seem like a simple problem, they can do real damage to your canine companion’s health.

Left untreated, a gastrointestinal blockage can prevent blood from reaching the area of the digestive tract affected. If tissue in this area dies off, it can begin to absorb the content of the bowel—toxic in other areas of the body.

If this bowel content makes it into the dog’s blood, sepsis can occur. Left untreated, sepsis is sometimes fatal, and can trigger nasty symptoms like fever, low blood pressure, chills, and lethargy.

If the object obstructing a dog’s bowel is sharp, they also run the risk of intestinal rupture. This occurs when something breaks through the intestinal wall, causing the intestine’s contents to spill into the abdomen. This contamination is extremely harmful, and requires emergency treatment.

What to Do If Your Dog Has a Bowel Obstruction

If you think your dog is suffering from a bowel obstruction, it can be a frightening prospect. For minor obstructions there are a few things you can try at home, but if you’re ever in doubt, taking your dog to the vet’s is the best course of action.

If you think your dog is suffering from a gastrointestinal blockage, you should:

  • Identify the source of the blockage

First of all, search your home and garden for any indigestible items your dog may have eaten, and make a note. If you actually saw your dog consume the item in question, you’re at an advantage when it comes to treatment.

If you’re unsure, or confident that a foreign body is not at the root of the problem, see your vet immediately. If the item is toxic, or the blockage is caused by a tumour, catching it early improves your pet’s chances of making a speedy recovery.

  • Home care

If your dog has ingested a small, non-toxic object without any sharp edges, you may want to wait and see if they will naturally pass it at home.

While you wait for the item to move through your dog’s digestive system, keep an eye out for any unusual symptoms, including strange bowel movements, vomiting, and bloating.

If no symptoms occur, look out for the ingested item in their feces. If it doesn’t turn up in a day or so, seek veterinary attention, even if your pet isn’t displaying any bowel blockage symptoms.

Do not attempt to encourage the item out with a dog bowel obstruction massage, as you may move the blockage into a more dangerous position. A natural remedy for bowel obstruction doesn’t really exist, besides giving your pet time and monitoring them.

Your dog can likely pass items like small pieces of paper, or a piece of crayon on their own. However, if they’ve swallowed something like glass, jagged plastic, or string, the item should be surgically removed before it can do any damage.

If your dog is displaying the symptoms mentioned earlier, though, don’t wait to see the vet, even if you think your dog could pass the item naturally.

  • Seeing a vet

If in doubt about a gastrointestinal blockage in your dog’s system, you should take them to the vet as soon as possible.

Your vet will likely take an x-ray of your dog’s stomach to identify physical blockages, and also carry out blood tests to look for any underlying issues.

The treatment your vet recommends will depend on the size, position, and cause of the obstruction. With foreign bodies lodged in the digestive tract, the most likely course of action will be surgery to remove the item.

After the surgery, your dog may be put on an IV drip to prevent dehydration. After this surgery, the animal should be allowed to rest, and put on a bland diet temporarily.

If the blockage is caused by pyloric stenosis, surgery will also be required to open up the pyloric sphincter. If a tumour is the cause of a blockage, surgery is also a likely course of action, potentially combined with medication.

Vet-checking-the-health-of-a-dog

Preventing Bowel Obstructions

Some dogs are more prone to eating foreign bodies than others, and if your dog has eaten something they shouldn’t have once, they are more likely to do so again.

Fortunately, there is plenty that owners can do to discourage their pets from ingesting questionable items. Since most gastrointestinal blockages are caused by foreign bodies, this can go a long way toward eliminating the risk of blockages altogether.

  • Be vigilant

If you have a curious pooch who likes to explore with their mouth, your vigilance is their first line of defence against bowel obstruction. If you see your dog or puppy gnawing on something they shouldn’t, take the item away immediately. This might mean keeping your dog on the leash when you walk until they have been properly trained to avoid eating certain objects.

  • Dog-proof your home

At home, you have a lot more control over what your pet eats. Keep any hazardous items at a height, or tucked away in cupboards and draws, to prevent curious pets from getting their paws on them.

  • Train your dog

Teaching your dog the “no” command gives you a quick and simple way to stop them from picking up non-food items, reducing their risk of swallowing foreign bodies.

  • Provide toys and treats

Dogs love to chew, and providing them with vet-approved toys and chews may sate the need and keep them away from dangerous items. Just be sure to avoid giving your dog cooked bones, since they can splinter and do damage when swallowed.

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Dr Tracy Douglas
General Practice Veterinarian, currently working at the Glenwood Veterinary Clinic, Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Dr. Douglas began her veterinary career as a Veterinary Nurse in Highton Veterinary Clinic, Highton Victoria, and then as an Emergency Veterinarian in Uintah Pet Emergency, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Tracy is particularly interested in surgery, neurology and internal medicine, which gives her a well-rounded knowledge on animal health and well-being. She received her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Melbourne, while her undergraduate bachelor of science is from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.

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