Symptoms of Intestinal Blockage in Dogs
Puppies Are Prone to Blockages
Worried about intestinal blockage in dogs? If you own a dog with a ''vacuum cleaner'' reputation, you should be extra careful to recognize the early signs 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, toys, socks, stones, buttons, underwear, balls, tampons, and marbles.
Symptoms of Intestinal Blockage
The symptoms vary depending on the location of the blockage. The most common signs of blockages include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Difficulty defecating
Have your dog seen by the vet immediately if you suspect your dog has swallowed something. 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 a a sock.
Considering that the transit time for items to move through the gastro-intestinal tract is anywhere between 10 and 24 hours, 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, and regurgitate right after being fed. The vomit may emerge in an oblong tubular shape and 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 will display symptoms including abdominal pain, a distended abdomen, fever, and shock. 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.
Note: 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
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 to 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.
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?
How Worried You Should Be About Swallowed Bones? A Vet Explains
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 distension—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.
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 on your own. 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
In other cases, the object can be retrieved with an endoscope 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 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. Following are some items swallowed known for causing complications.
- 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.
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For Further Reading
- Dog Upset Stomach Home Remedies
Is your dog's upset stomach becoming a problem? Learn some vet-approved home remedies to treat it. The easy-to-make bland diet uses items straight from your kitchen pantry!
- Dangers of Eating Rawhide Bones and Signs of Trouble
Learn about the dangers of dogs eating rawhide bones. Recognize the symptoms of a problems caused by rawhide and how to prevent them in the future.
- How and When to Induce Vomiting in Your Dog
A time may come when you find out too late that your puppy or dog has ingested something potentially harmful or even poisonous, requiring treatment at once. If so, you may want to induce vomiting, but first, learn when it is safe to do so.
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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!