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Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment of a Blocked Bowel in Dogs

As a dog owner, it can be distressing to see your furry friend in discomfort. One common issue that dogs can experience is a blocked bowel. But how can you tell if your dog has a blocked bowel? And what should you do if you suspect this is the case? In this article, we will explore the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for a blocked bowel in dogs, so you can ensure your pet receives the care they need.

Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment of a Blocked Bowel in Dogs

Ideally, whatever your dog devours goes through his intestinal system without incident, with waste material eventually coming out his back end.

That doesn’t happen when he suffers a complete or partial blockage.

While the former soon becomes life-threatening, the latter can persist with milder symptoms for some time.

If your dog exhibits bowel blockage symptoms, take him to the vet immediately for diagnosis and treatment.

What are the Symptoms of Bowel Blockage in Dogs

While bowel blockage symptoms or intestinal blockages vary depending on the cause of the obstruction, most dogs exhibit common symptoms of vomiting, whether frequent or sporadic.

Other signs include appetite loss, dehydration, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or straining to defecate.

A dog with a partial blockage may experience diarrhea due to the passage of liquid around the obstruction.

If there is a complete blockage, the dog may try to defecate but won’t be able to.

Dogs with partial bowel blockage might lose weight.

What Causes Blocked Bowel in Dogs?

A blocked bowel, also known as gastrointestinal obstruction, occurs when there is a partial obstruction or complete blockage in the digestive system of a dog.

This obstruction can prevent the passage of food, fluids, and waste, leading to a range of symptoms and potentially life-threatening complications.

As a responsible pet owner, being aware of the causes of a blocked bowel can help you take the necessary precautions and seek prompt veterinary care if needed.

Keep reading to learn more about what causes bowel obstructions in our furry friends.

Foreign Objects

The most frequent type of intestinal obstruction results from dogs consuming foreign objects, which then get stuck in the digestive tract.

Should the foreign body contain toxic elements, the dog might experience seizures or red blood cell destruction.

If the object perforates the intestine, sepsis — whole-body inflammation — or peritonitis can result.

If you know or suspect that your dog ate a certain item, tell your vet.

Examples of foreign objects that cause bowel obstruction:

  • Bones
  • Sticks
  • Tennis balls
  • Rocks
  • Plastic items (toys, bags, wrappers)
  • Rope fibers (from chew toys)
  • Cloth items (socks, underwear, etc)
  • Corn cobs
  • Pecans or other large nuts swallowed whole – (I have had a dog swallow a whole pecan before and require surgery to remove it.
  • Intestinal Parasites – Intestinal parasites are a common cause of intestinal blockages. Parasites can sometimes lodge in the intestines and prevent the passage of fluid or food. Examples include tapeworms, roundworms, and hookworms
Closeup of German Shepherd dog retching

Intestinal Tumors

Intestinal tumors can be a serious health issue for dogs as they can cause bowel blockages.

Dogs suffering from intestinal or intestinal wall tumors are “generally” middle-aged or older, with males more often affected than females.

These tumors can develop in different parts of the intestine and can lead to a variety of symptoms such as abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss.

Bowel blockage occurs when the tumor grows large enough to obstruct the normal flow of food and waste through the intestines.

This can be a life-threatening condition if not promptly diagnosed and treated.

It is important for dog owners to be aware of the signs and symptoms of intestinal tumors and seek veterinary care if they suspect their dog may be affected.

Early detection and treatment can greatly improve the prognosis for dogs with this condition.

German Shepherd dog being held on exam table by vet techs preparing for an x-ray

How Bowel Blockage in Dogs is Diagnosed

Your vet diagnoses a bowel blockage with a physical examination, followed by X-rays and ultrasound.

They will also conduct a complete blood count, urinalysis, complete chemistry profile, and fecal testing.

While imaging usually indicates whether a foreign body or a tumor is the culprit, if there is no definite diagnosis, your vet might perform an exploratory surgery or exploratory laparotomy, opening the abdominal wall surgically to pin down the cause of the obstruction.

Dangers of an Intestinal Obstruction

Intestinal obstructions can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.

Without treatment, the intestine may become damaged due to pressure, lack of blood flow or blood supply, and a build-up of toxins.

In severe cases, death can occur within 48 hours.

It is important for owners to seek prompt veterinary care if their dog is exhibiting any signs of a blockage.

German Shepherd dog being held by owner and examined by a vet

How is Blocked Bowel in Dogs Treated?

If your dog’s bowel blockage results from eating an inappropriate object, he may require intestinal surgery.

Removal of the foreign body is performed either via an endoscope or full surgical incision, depending on the item’s size, location, and whether there are multiple pieces.

Complete obstructions warrant emergency surgery!

While the prognosis for dogs treated early is good, it’s a different story if sepsis or peritonitis has developed.

The former requires aggressive antibiotic and antimicrobial treatment, while the latter requires antibiotics and drains.

Dogs diagnosed with intestinal cancer will have tumors removed through surgery, with the prognosis or survival after surgery depending on whether the cancer has spread.

How to Prevent Bowel Obstructions in Dogs

The best way to prevent your dog from developing a bowel obstruction is to keep him away from objects that can cause them, such as small toys, rocks, and sticks.

Even common personal and household items such as socks, pantyhose, pacifiers, sponges, etc can cause severe problems if consumed by your furry friend.

You should also make sure that he eats a balanced diet and receives regular veterinary check-ups and tests for intestinal parasites.

Regular check-ups with your veterinarian are also recommended to identify any underlying health issues that could increase the chance of intestinal blockages.

Additionally, it is important to pay close attention to what your pet eats.

If you know that they have ingested something that could cause a blockage, seek veterinary attention immediately.

Sad German Shepherd dog laying on a cot dog bed

In Conclusion

In conclusion, recognizing and treating a blocked bowel in dogs is crucial for their health and well-being.

By being aware of the symptoms, understanding the causes, and seeking prompt veterinary care, you can help your furry friend get back on track to a happy and healthy life.

Remember, their well-being is in your hands, so don’t hesitate to take action and be their hero!

Bea LaRocca

Thursday 17th of August 2023

Thank you for sharing this information, as this is something that the humans in my family deal with occasionally, it is helpful to know what to look out for in our fur babies


Wednesday 9th of August 2023

We have been through this with one of our dogs and it was very scary. He almost died after surgery and our vet slept on the floor next to him to make sure he didn't!

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