7 Symptoms of Intestinal Blockage in Dogs
Worried your dog has an intestinal blockage? If you own a dog with a ''vacuum cleaner'' reputation, you should be extra careful to recognize the early symptoms of an intestinal blockage.
The list of objects retrieved from dogs' digestive systems each year is quite impressive and, every now and then, surprising. The most commonly found are coins, bones, sticks, parts of toys, socks, stones, buttons, underwear, balls, tampons, and marbles. Though they are digestible up to a certain extent, rawhide chews can also cause trouble for some dogs, especially if they tend to gulp their treats.
7 Symptoms of an Intestinal Blockage in Dogs
The symptoms of intestinal blockages in dogs vary depending on the location of the blockage in the digestive tract. The most common signs of blockages include:
- Lip smacking
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain (praying position)
- Difficulty defecating
If left untreated, a blockage in dogs can lead to fatal complications, such as perforation of the bowels and peritonitis. However, if you can have your dog seen quickly, you can sometimes avoid surgery and have the item removed via endoscopy.
Also, depending on what the dog ate, the vet may suggest inducing vomiting before a blockage occurs; this may work if the dog swallowed a soft item such as a sock.
If your dog just vomits once but otherwise appears okay and continues to have normal bowel movements with no other symptoms, they may have just had an upset stomach that can be treated at home. If your dog isn't pooping, it may also just be constipation, which could also be handled at home (if it's a mild case).
However, constipation in dogs is not very common, and many times dogs who appear to have constipation are in realty having diarrhea with tenesmus (dog feels the urge to have a bout of diarrhea, but nothing comes out or just a few droplets make their way out), rectal pain as it may happen with anal gland problems or they are truly dealing with a blockage.
In general, it's the combination of symptoms that is especially alarming, and even more so, if your dog has a tendency of gulping down things.
See a Vet Immediately If Your Dog Swallowed Something
Dogs that begin to appear listless or uninterested in food, start vomiting, have abdominal pain, pass bloody or tarry stools, strain to pass stools, or just do not act normally should be seen by the vet immediately.
Dog Intestinal Blockage Timeline
Location of Blockage
Time to Show Up (Usually)
Licking lips, swallowing a lot, regurgitating right after being fed
Shortly after swallowing something
Vomiting that occurs within a few hours of eating. This type is usually caused by large, smooth items.
A few hours
Vomiting after eating, abdominal pain, distended abdomen, fever, shock
Toward end of small intestine
Vomiting usually takes place 7 - 8 hours after eating, diarrhea
7 - 8 hours after eating or later
A Rough Timeline of When Blockage Symptoms Show Up
Considering that the transit time for items to move through the gastrointestinal tract is anywhere between 10 and 24 hours, no matter what it is—a tampon, corn on the cob, or chicken bone. The symptoms of an intestinal blockage generally occur within 24 hours after swallowing the problematic item.
However, depending on where the item lodges, the time frame may vary—the earlier in the system the item is lodged, the sooner symptoms will emerge.
If the blockage is in the esophagus, symptoms appear rather quickly after swallowing the object. Affected dogs will likely:
- Lick their lips.
- Swallow a lot.
- Regurgitate right after being fed. The vomit may emerge in an oblong tubular shape and may include undigested kibble in large pieces.
They also often suffer from dehydration because they're unable to eat and drink properly. Because they are unable to keep food down, these dogs go downhill pretty quickly.
If the blockage is in the stomach, the pylorus is often blocked, which will prevent food from making it through the intestinal tract. Therefore, episodes of vomiting will usually occur within a few hours after eating. The objects that most commonly create blockages in the stomach are large smooth items, such as golf balls, marbles, and bones.
If the blockage is in the small intestine, the object was able to make it through the pylorus but got stuck in the bends of the small intestine. When this happens, gas accumulates, causing the intestine to become distended. Eventually, the blood supply may be cut off, causing the tissues to die.
In this case, dogs will begin vomiting soon after eating and display symptoms including:
- Abdominal pain
- Distended abdomen
This can even lead to death if left untreated.
If the blockage is further down the road, towards the end of the small intestine, diarrhea becomes a more common symptom. Vomiting may still occur, but will take place 7-8 hours after eating.
Symptoms Do Not Always Happen Immediately
Some blockage symptoms may not occur immediately because the object may only be partially blocking the digestive system at first. For instance, a dog once came into our office six days after swallowing part of a stuffed animal. What happened was that the foreign item bobbed around the dog's stomach for a few days before moving into the narrow small intestines and creating problems.
The relatively large size of the canine esophagus allows it to swallow objects much larger than what can safely pass through the intestines.— Kris Ann Fazio, DVM
Veterinarian Dr. Eric Discusses Bowel Obstructions in Dogs
My Dog Swallowed a Bone! What to Do?
This is something quite common. You look away from the table for one second, only to discover your dog reaching up to snatch a chicken wing. As soon as you chase him, he swallows it whole. What do you do in this case?
Cooked bones are more likely to splinter than raw bones, presenting a danger to your pet. Here are three things you can feed your dog that hopefully will help protect his stomach and intestinal lining by wrapping around the bone and allowing it to move through his system smoothly.
- 1/2 to 1 slice of high-fiber bread
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup of plain canned pumpkin
- 1/2 cup of cooked brown rice
After that, all that remains to do is to wait and see.
As mentioned above, dogs that begin to appear listless or uninterested in food, start vomiting, have abdominal pain, pass bloody or tarry stools, strain to pass stools, or just do not act normally should be seen by the vet immediately.
For more details with some tips from vets, visit What to Do If My Dog Ate Chicken Bones?
What If My Dog Swallowed . . . .
Dangerous to Swallow?
What to Do If Your Dog Swallows It
Cooked chicken, pork, or rib bones
Yes. Cooked bones can crack and splinter, which can be harmful to your dog at any point in the gastrointestinal tract, from entrance to exit.
Feed your dog 1/2 to 1 slice of high fiber food and watch carefully for signs of injury or blockage.
A corn cob
Can cause problems if your dog swallows it whole or large chunks of it.
Watch carefully for signs of obstruction
Can cause an obstruction if your dog swallows large pieces of it
If your dog tends to try to gulp rawhides, don't give them as treats. If they swallow a large chunk, watch for signs of obstruction.
Yes. They can swell and cause an obstruction.
Try to determine how much your dog ate so you can give the vet as much information as possible (if you end up going). Watch your dog closely for warning signs.
How Worried You Should Be About Swallowed Bones? A Vet Explains
If You Go to the Vet: Diagnosis of a Gastrointestinal Foreign Body
Veterinarians will start with a physical examination. They will palpate the dog's abdomen looking for signs of pain and distention—often, they will even be able to feel the foreign object during this step.
X-rays may reveal the object ingested and its exact location, but not all items may be visible with an x-ray. For instance, a rock may show up easily, but a piece of rawhide bone may not.
In some cases, the vet may need to feed your dog barium to make certain items visible on x-rays. The vet can then determine if the item is likely going to pass on its own or if surgery may be needed.
Treatment for Small Objects Ingested Less Than Two Hours Ago
If the dog ingested the foreign object less than two hours ago and the object is safe to bring back up, veterinarians may recommend inducing vomiting with 3% hydrogen peroxide.
Call your vet ASAP to see if it is safe to induce vomiting (if the object was toxic or sharp, it may not be). If it is, your vet will tell you how much hydrogen peroxide to use. In some cases, if this does not work, the vet may administer more effective medications to induce vomiting.
Note: Do not try to induce vomiting without asking a vet's advice. Some items may be dangerous to bring back up! Consult with your vet about when it's appropriate to induce vomiting and when it's not.
How to Induce Vomiting If a Small Foreign Body Was Ingested Less Than Two Hours Ago
Other Cases of Removing a Dog's Bowel Obstruction
In other cases, the object can be retrieved with an endoscope (a tool used for looking inside of your dog's body) armed with utensils made for grasping the object. This is helpful if the object is still in the stomach and is not easy to grasp.
Unfortunately, once the object has made its way through the pylorus and the small intestine, surgery is needed.
If there is necrosis (tissue death) of some parts of the intestine, they will need to be removed along with the foreign object and the two ends of the intestinal tract will need to be sutured back together.
Prognosis varies depending on the severity of the obstruction and the presence of complicating factors such as necrosis or peritonitis. Most pets recover fine. However, post-surgery, dogs must be monitored for any signs of leakage from the intestinal tract. Fever and abdominal pain should be reported to the vet immediately.
After surgery, the dog will have to gradually work its way back to solid foods. It should eat a liquid diet for the first few days. Then you can gradually introduce mushy, soft food until the vet allows a normal diet. The dog may also need to wear an Elizabethan collar to prevent him from chewing on his stitches.
How to Prevent Intestinal Blockages
- Keep an eagle eye on your pet. It takes only seconds for them to wolf down a toy while you are turning your back.
- Never give cooked bones (they are more likely to splinter), rawhide, or unsafe toys to dogs with a vacuum-cleaner reputation.
- Keep your dog out of the trash—especially after a barbeque. Steak bones, rib bones, and turkey carcasses are big troublemakers when swallowed.
- Always make sure toys are larger than the dog's throat (and, therefore, impossible to swallow).
- Teach the drop-it-and-leave-it command.
How Dangerous Is the Item My Dog Swallowed? Here Is a List of the Worst Offenders
While anything ingested is dangerous when it blocks the dog's gastro-intestinal tract, there are some items that may do further damage as they pass through. Here are some items that are known for causing complications when swallowed:
- Pennies—Pennies often cause of intestinal obstruction in dogs. What's more, they also may cause zinc toxicity if they were minted after 1982.
- Strings—A string may appear to be an innocent object. But once in the intestinal tract, its waves of movement may cause the intestine to bunch up like an accordion. As the string gets tighter, it may eventually cut through the intestines. This is known as a linear foreign body.
- Alkaline Batteries—A dog's teeth can puncture the battery, releasing acids that may corrode the dog's throat and stomach. Dogs that have ingested alkaline batteries should not be induced to vomit, as their contents are corrosive and can cause more harm on the way up. Consult with a vet promptly or call poison control.
- Cat Litter—Because the litter may start clumping once ingested, it can cause problems—especially if your dog has eaten a large amount.
- Sharp Objects—Oddly, sometimes sharp objects pass uneventfully because the intestinal tract detects their sharpness and does not spasm around them as it does with smoother objects. Should your dog swallow something sharp, try feeding him 1/2 to 1 slice of high-fiber bread that will wrap around the bone, hopefully protecting the stomach and intestinal lining. Alternately, you can feed him 1/4 to 1/2 cup of plain canned pumpkin or 1/2 cup of cooked brown rice.
- Tampons—The issue with tampons is that they are manufactured to swell with moisture. When this happens inside the dog, it creates problems and ups the chances for intestinal blockage. If this happens, feed your dog one of the foods recommended for ingesting sharp objects (listed above) to help prevent the plastic from scraping against the intestinal lining.
How Much Will Surgery Cost
If your pooch is unlucky enough to need surgery, you could be spending a hefty amount of money. Prices, of course, vary by region and the kind of operation that is needed.
According to Dr. Phil Zeltzman, surgery varies also by what part of the dog's body is being operated on. His blog gives the following numbers for the different kinds of surgery:
- Mouth: $370
- Esophagus: $920
- Stomach: $1,140
- Small intestine: $1, 640
- Colon (or large intestine): $640
These are just averages, however. So you might pay one-third or three times these amounts depending on your location, the type of doctor that you see, and the clinic or hospital that you go to.
Wishing Your Pet Good Health!
Good luck with your pet! Hopefully you won't need to see the vet, but if you think you do, don't hesitate.
And remember, for dogs that love to eat everything, be extra vigilant and careful about what you leave around.
Does your dog have a "Hoover" tendency?
Have Advice or a Question? Leave a Comment!
Did your dog eat something odd? Have advice or a story to tell about what happened to your dog with a ''Hoover'' reputation? Any questions? Feel free to post in the comment section below!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
What should I do if my dog has an intestinal blockage?
If you suspect your dog has an intestinal blockage, your dog should see the vet. Left untreated, the intestines can become injured by pressure necrosis, which can potentially lead to intestinal perforation.A serious infection in the abdominal cavity may arise (peritonitis) and this is life-threatening. So if this is a true intestinal obstruction, things can take a turn for the worse if no action is taken. Your vet will examine your dog and likely take x-rays. Surgery may be needed if there is truly a blockage. If you can't afford the vet, there is an interest-free credit card known as Care Credit which is accepted by many vets nowadays.Helpful 48
My dog ate a burger with a wrapper, and he seems to be sick. He’s licking his lips, looks a little dehydrated, but he’s eating and drinking. He’s also playful. Will he be okay?
In most cases, the wrapper should pass fine in a large dog if it was just the paper, as paper breaks down when exposed to the acids of the stomach. You might see digestive upset such as vomiting or diarrhea due to the diet change and greasy meal. Some dogs prone to it may develop pancreatitis when eating greasy foods. If you notice any vomiting, attempting to vomit with no success, lethargy or anorexia, then you should have your dog seen by a vet just to be safeHelpful 33
My Shih Tzu ate a small portion of corn cob did not show signs for six days. What happened during those six days? She sadly passed away.
Corn cobs are sadly very problematic considering that they are not digested and they can cause damage as they pass through. Usually, dogs with intestinal blockages show signs. They rarely go from healthy and happy to sickly and then to the brink of dying in a matter of minutes. However, it can happen that it lodges in such a way as to cause a partial blockage (causing little to no symptoms) and then goes on to become complete.
The main concern with corn cobs is pressure necrosis. This happens from direct compression of the blood supply of the intestine. Lack of blood supply leads to necrosis, basically tissue death. If necrosis progresses to all layers of the bowel, the bowel may become perforated, that is, a hole may develop causing leakage. Leakage of contents of the intestine into the abdominal cavity, can cause a serious infection (peritonitis) which can bring death within a few hours.Helpful 33
I think my seven-month-old puppy might have swallowed a small plastic toy approximately a week ago. I have been watching him, and he seems to be acting normal. He has vomited a few times and had some diarrhea, but he has been eating and having normal size bowel movements. So I'm not sure if I should rush him to a vet for X-rays or will he be alright?
Since there is vomiting and diarrhea, it may not be a bad idea to take X-rays, just to play it safe. A partial obstruction is a possibility.Helpful 20
My 6-month-old dog got ahold of my small dog's mini bully sticks. I was hoping she chewed them first, but 5-7 hours later she threw up the chucks of bully sticks, grass (she likes leaves and grass) and her food. She then had liquid diarrhea and has been extremely lethargic. It has been about an hour since throwing up, and she has not to eaten or drank. Could it be that she threw the bad stuff up and is just feeling ill and recovering? Or should we see the vet?
Only a vet visit and x-ray can tell you whether there is a blockage going on or not. Generally, large breed pups pass things more easily than smaller breed pups due to the diameter of their digestive tract. It is good news though that she has vomited the chunks of the bully stick. Hopefully, that was all of it. The upset tummy is not uncommon when dogs eat things they are not used to; therefore, it is possible she is just feeling ill from eating all that. I would suggest seeing the vet if she keeps acting ill and doesn't give signs of recovering, also because she can get dehydrated quickly if she keeps vomiting and having diarrhea.Helpful 20
© 2009 Adrienne Janet Farricelli