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Intestinal Blockage Surgery for Dogs

It's no secret that dogs like to eat and chew things they shouldn't. Unfortunately, this can lead to the swallowing of foreign objects. Here, our vets in Snellville share the dangers of intestinal blockages in dogs and what to expect before during and after surgery to treat the issue.

Intestinal Blockages in Dogs

No matter the size, age or breed of your dog, there is a chance that they may eat something they shouldn't. This blockage could either be partial or complete. Blockages can potentially cause numerous complications, including preventing food and water from passing through the GI tract and decreasing blood flow. It can take as little as a few days for an intestinal blockage to become fatal.

Any section of your dog's digestive tract is at risk of becoming obstructed. While some may be able to pass into the esophagus, they may not reach the stomach. Others may enter the stomach but not the intestines, or become lodged within the intricate twists and turns of a dog's intestines. 

The most common cause of intestinal obstructions is foreign objects. Every pooch faces the risk of swallowing a surprising range of items, from trash and toys to dish towels, underwear, socks, rope, and more, the list goes on. Yarn, string, and rope fibers are particularly hazardous for dogs as they can cause the intestines to twist. In older dogs, the obstructions are more commonly caused by tumors.

Dog Intestinal Blockage: Timeline

A common question that our vets are asked is, 'Can a dog die from intestinal blockage?' Unfortunately, the answer to this question is yes.

Left untreated, an intestinal blockage may press against the intestinal wall, leading to damage to the intestines and potentially causing tissue to die. It can also lead to a perforation or rupture in the bowel. Without appropriate treatment, dogs with complete intestinal blockage will typically die within three to four days. 

While rare, there have been some cases where an intestinal blockage has passed on its own. However, when it comes to estimating a timeline for intestinal blockage in dogs, time is critical. If your dog's system does not pass the object on its own and your pup is showing symptoms listed in this post, treatment will need to be administered as soon as possible. 

If your veterinarian determines that the foreign object presents an immediate danger, emergency surgery will be ordered. If your dog displays any of the common intestinal blockage symptoms listed below, seek emergency veterinary care

Signs of Intestinal Blockages in Dogs

So how will you know if your dog has an intestinal blockage? It can be easy to brush off symptoms of intestinal blockages as merely an upset stomach unless you happen to witness your dog swallowing a foreign object. 

even so, if your dog shows any signs that point to an intestinal blockage, you should bring them in for veterinary care right away. Some of the most common signs include:

  • Dehydration
  • Weakness
  • Bloating
  • Restlessness
  • Whining
  • Aggressive behavior when touching the stomach
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Straining or unable to poop
  • Painful abdomen to the touch
  • Vomiting 

If you suspect your dog has ingested something they shouldn't have or they are displaying symptoms listed above, call your veterinarian as soon as possible, or contact your nearest animal emergency center.

Diagnosing Dog Intestinal Blockages

When your dog swallows something you may immediately try to figure out if you can help them. Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do to help on your own and you should seek veterinary guidance right away.

Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam with a focus on the area surrounding the stomach. They may also perform blood work to determine if the blockage is affecting your dog’s overall health.

Your vet may then request that your dog have diagnostic imaging and tests to help determine the size and location of the 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 are the treatment options for intestinal blockages?

There are both surgical and non-surgical treatments for intestinal blockage depending on the circumstances. 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 does not provide the necessary information your vet will then request other forms of diagnostic imaging to help.

How to Prepare Your Dogs for Intestinal Blockage Surgery

Make sure that your pet does not eat or drink anything on the morning before their surgery. Eating and/or drinking could cause your pet to aspirate while under anesthesia, which is potentially life-threatening.

Your vet will provide you with a time to drop off your pet. Remember that surgery day at your animal hospital is bound to be busy so try to be on time and remain calm and relaxed while you drop off your pet.

Your vet may wish to do further testing before surgery to make sure that your pet does not face any increased anesthetic risks.

Check in with the staff at reception and make sure that they have the correct number to reach you at so that they can provide you with updates while your four-legged friend is in their care.

If your dog needs intestinal blockage surgery, then the cost may be a factor you want to discuss with your vet. The cost can vary based on factors like the severity of the situation and the clinic itself. Your vet can provide an estimate of the expected costs.

What happens during intestinal blockage surgery?

If surgery is determined to be the best option for your dog, they will be placed under anesthetic. Once the procedure is complete, your vet will keep your dog for observation. How long your day stays depends on the outcome of the procedure and how your dog responds in the following hours and 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.

The outcome for your dog after surgery will depend on several factors including:

  • 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.

Your Dog's Recovery from Intestinal Blockage Surgery

The first 72 hours after surgery are critical to a dog's prognosis. While the risk drastically begins to decrease after 72 hours, there is still a chance of complications such as:

  • 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. A cone or e-collar (Elizabethan collar) should be placed on your dog to prevent them from chewing the incision.

It’s important to feed your dog small amounts of bland food before gradually transitioning to his previous diet during this time. Preventing dehydration with an adequate fluid intake is also vital.

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 common for dogs to vomit afterward. If necessary, your vet will prescribe medication to help relieve nausea and vomiting.

What is the success rate for dog intestinal blockage surgery?

The expected survival rate for dogs who have undergone intestinal blockage surgery depends on a few variables including:

  • Your dog's health pre-surgery
  • The foreign object's size, shape, and location
  • How long the foreign object has been stuck in the intestines

We will assess your dog's specific case, and then review the diagnosis, treatment options, and prognosis with you, in addition to addressing any questions or concerns you may have.

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.

If you believe that your dog may have swallowed something they shouldn't have, please contact our Snellville veterinary team as soon as possible.

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