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What is Intestinal Obstruction?

Intestinal obstruction in dogs refers to complete or partial blockage of fluid and food flow through the small intestines. This is somewhat common in dogs as they can be indiscriminate eaters. During obstruction, blood supply to the GI tract can become compromised, leading to necrosis (death) of intestinal tissue and possible perforation. Bacteria from the bowels can spill into the abdominal cavity causing septic peritonitis. Obstruction can be deadly if not caught and treated early. Emergency surgery is often required to remove the obstruction and any dead tissue.

Intestinal obstructions are very painful for dogs and can be fatal if left untreated. During obstruction, blood supply can become compromised, and perforation can lead to septic peritonitis. It is important to contact a veterinarian immediately for treatment options.

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Symptoms of Intestinal Obstruction in Dogs

Signs of intestinal obstruction in dogs can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Straining during bowel movements
  • Diarrhea
  • Tarry stools
  • Inability to defecate
  • Lethargy
  • Burping
  • Excessive drooling
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Remaining still
  • Refusing to lie down
Types

Intestinal obstruction can refer to two types of blockage:

  • Gastric outflow obstruction

    – Obstruction of fluid and food movement from the stomach to the small intestine.

  • Small intestinal obstruction

    – Obstruction of fluid and food movement through the small intestine.

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Causes of Intestinal Obstruction in Dogs

Causes of gastric outflow obstruction can include:

  • Ingestion of objects that cannot be broken down through digestion. Rawhides, bones, toys, clothes, towels, stuffed animals, rocks, sticks, tennis balls, shoelaces, hair ties/bands and ribbon are some causes for this that can occur.
  • Abdominal tumor
  • Gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and small intestine)
  • Pyloric stenosis (narrowing of the pyloric sphincter)
  • Gastric dilatation volvulus (twisting of the stomach)

Causes of small intestinal obstruction can include:

  • Ingestion of objects that cannot be broken down through digestion. Rawhides, bones, toys, clothes, towels, stuffed animals, rocks, sticks, tennis balls, shoelaces, hair ties/bands and ribbon are some causes for this that can occur.
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Intestinal stricture (narrowing of the intestine)
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Abdominal tumor
  • Hernia
  • Intussusception (folding of the intestine)
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Diagnosis of Intestinal Obstruction in Dogs

The minute you see your pet swallow something large, sharp or indigestible, you should visit the veterinarian to decide whether the best action is to induce vomiting. If you don’t see the actual event but are noticing signs, it is critical to see the veterinarian for an examination. A history will determine if the pet has ingested any dangerous item or has gotten into the trash. A physical examination will allow the veterinarian to feel the abdomen to reveal masses, intussusception, pain or foreign objects.

If your veterinarian suspects intestinal obstruction, blood testing can identify anemia or infection. Abdominal radiographs can aid in visualizing foreign bodies, tumors, and abnormal bowels. Ultrasound is another good tool to identify presence of an obstruction and its location.

Your veterinarian may order a Barium series. Barium sulfate is a metallic compound that shows up on x-ray. If the barium is blocked from flowing or is delayed in movement, this can indicate an obstruction and help to pinpoint its location.

If diagnostics indicate an intestinal obstruction, exploratory surgery (laparotomy) can be performed (often the same day) to locate and remove the obstruction.

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Treatment of Intestinal Obstruction in Dogs

Induce Vomiting

If your pet is brought in after having ingested something and the veterinarian is able to induce vomiting and produce the foreign object, the pet will be sent home to monitor for appetite, any vomiting and normal bowel movements (to ensure all potential danger of obstruction was eliminated through vomiting).

If you have brought your pet in because of signs of intestinal obstruction, it may be too late for vomiting to be sufficient treatment.

Hospitalization and Stabilization

As intestinal obstruction can be life-threatening. Once diagnosis is made, the pet will be hospitalized and given intravenous fluids to aid in hydration and electrolyte restoration. If an obstruction appears it may pass, the veterinarian may use fluid therapy and medical therapy to attempt to speed up the process. Continued radiographs can help in examining movement of the object.

Laparotomy

Gastric dilatation volvulus requires immediate surgery. Foreign objects or masses that are obstructing the intestines will also often require immediate surgery to remove the object and necrotic tissue. The pet will undergo general anesthesia. The stomach and/or small intestines will be opened to remove the foreign object/mass or to correct any abnormal folding.

Resection and Anastomosis

Any dead intestinal tissue will be identified and removed. The intestines will be closed and examined for possible spots of leakage. If this procedure must be performed, the probability of post-operative complications increases.

Gastropexy

In the case of gastric dilatation volvulus, the stomach may be sutured to the intestinal wall to prevent recurrence. Some deep-chested dogs (great Danes, sight hounds) have this surgery as a preventative measure.

Release

The patient may be hospitalized for 2-3 days to monitor stability as this is an invasive surgery. Antibiotics, pain medications and anti-emetics (anti-nausea medications) will be administered via injection. Oral medications will likely be continued following release.

Prognosis can be good if an intestinal obstruction is caught and treated early. The prognosis is poor if much time has allowed to lapse. 

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Recovery of Intestinal Obstruction in Dogs

After surgery, it is important to keep your pet still and resting for a few weeks. Food is often withheld for a period of time and then a bland diet is introduced in small amounts every few hours. The portion sizes are gradually increased over 2-3 days and the diet is then transitioned back to the normal diet gradually over 7 days.

It is important to monitor your pet for vomiting, appetite, and bowel movements and report any abnormalities to your veterinarian.

Ingestion of foreign objects can lead to costly veterinary bills.  Keep pets from chewing things they could swallow or tear up and then swallow. Be careful with trash bins. Keep them in a closed closet or use a secure lid.

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Cost of Intestinal Obstruction in Dogs

The veterinarian will most likely perform a physical exam first which can cost $50 to $100 on average. The doctor may require blood testing to determine any infections. Blood testing can cost between $50 and $400. An abdominal radiograph may be necessary for a better view of what and where the object is. This test can cost between $150 and $400. If the doctor needs a better view, she may order an ultrasound that can cost $230 to $400. Once the veterinarian has concluded the cause and location of the obstruction, she will start treatment. The dog will need to be hospitalized with intravenous fluids, which can be quite costly, depending on medications needed and response to therapy. If the veterinarian needs to perform a laparotomy, this will require a general anesthesia and can cost between $500 and $5000, depending on how diseased the intestines are. Finally, your dog will need a variety of medications along the way, and once released from the hospital. 

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Intestinal Obstruction Average Cost

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Average Cost

$3,000

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Written by a Pugs lover Grace Park

Veterinary reviewed by: Michele K.

Published: 09/30/2015, edited: 02/24/2021

Intestinal Obstruction Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Dachshund

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Five Years

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Unknown severity

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3 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea

My dog started suddenly with very smelly diarrhea. No vomiting. She has strained to try to move her bowels but has been unable. Her abdomen is soft with bowel sounds. This has continued for two days. The diarrhea is brown (not dark) but very smelly and oily. I haven’t seen her eat anything; but she has a tendency to eat any & everything.

April 5, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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3 Recommendations

Oh bless her, she looks quite fed up. Ongoing diarrhoea can lead to dehydration and could indicate e.g. an infection or gut obstruction. A vet visit is best to examine her and as she may need medicine such as antibiotics and anti diarrhoea paste. At home, ensure she is up to date with a good quality wormer and offer a bland meal of chicken and rice.

April 5, 2021

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aussie doodle

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One Year

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Unknown severity

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2 found helpful

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Unknown severity

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Hello. My Aussie doodle Arlo had been acting strange this week as if he had eaten something he shouldn’t have and I’d gotten worried. This morning he threw up some cloth and I thought things were okay although he hadn’t been pooping or didn’t yesterday. Then today he gave me a huge diarrhea and following that proceeded to poop out a very thin but 16-18” long rope from one of his toys. Then proceeded to act mostly normal. I left For work and my girlfriend came home and went to walk him and he rushed out the door to essentially poop straight water. Would that be normal for post blockage removal?

March 11, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Gina U. DVM

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2 Recommendations

Hello If your pup has a blockage, diarrhea could be part of that. I recommend taking him to a veterinarian for an exam. He may have more cloth in his digestive tract. Good luck.

March 11, 2021

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Chiweenie

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Nine Years

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Unknown severity

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2 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Tarry Stool

So my dog has been leaving little tiny spots on my floor even though we have yet to catch them doing it a literally is in the blink of an eye it's everywhere it's little tiny poops that are hardest held get off my floor their dark and they smell horrible not when you 1st come in contact with it but after you try cleaning it up it's Disgusting. It's been going on for the last couple of days. She's not complaining or rubbing her butt on the floor she's not constantly Licking her behind in fact it's almost like there's nothing wrong with her. No matter what we used to clean it up, It's damn impossible including a putty knife

Feb. 17, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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2 Recommendations

I'm sorry to hear this. This may be digested blood which can occur with stomach or small intestinal bleeding. You should see a vet right away to determine why this is happening and to rule out anaemia or dehydration. They may run some tests such as a blood and stool analysis.

Feb. 17, 2021

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great

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Two Months

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13 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Chewed on foam flooring. Found a few pieces/chunks in stools... now puppy is straining and stools have turned to more diarrhea. Found another small piece tonight. Seems to still have energy and drinking water.

Jan. 29, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Maureen M. DVM

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13 Recommendations

Hi, Try adding some liquid paraffin to his food. It will help lubricate the bowel and pass out any foam left. If it persists please take him to the vet.

Jan. 29, 2021

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hound mixed

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Eleven Years

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10 found helpful

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My dog is throwing up and peeing constantly in the house and cannot move his bowels even though he has tried several times.

Jan. 6, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Maureen M. DVM

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10 Recommendations

Hi, Sorry about this. This sounds like an obstruction in the gut probably from swallowing a foreign body e.g bones. It is preventing normal bowel movements thus the inability to pass stool. Vomiting is also a common symptom in such cases. The foreign body may also be applying a bit of pressure on the bladder explaining the increased frequency in urination. Kindly follow up with your veterinarian for a tentative diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.

Jan. 6, 2021

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Shosh

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French Bulldog

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3 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

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Lethargic
No Appetite

Hi. My french bulldog got into a bag of milano cookies on Saturday. She ate some of the paper bag and several cookies, but seemed completely fine afterwards. The following Friday (6 days later) she woke up at 5am and wanted to go outside and eat grass. After that she would spit up clear bile with grass. She didn't eat that day and we just kind of kept an eye on her, but she drank a ton of water. She did seem lethargic though. Saturday morning she still wouldn't eat and would try to eat grass. Saturday night I tried to entice with chicken breast, but she wasn't interested. Shortly after she threw up brown foul smelling bile, so we went to the emergency vet. They did an X-ray and full blood work, but it was normal. She stayed over night for fluids. Sunday morning (today) they X-rayed her again - still normal. She still would not eat. Then they did an ultra sound and they said it was pretty unremarkable, but that maybe she had gastritis. I took her home tonight around 8pm with anti-naseau medication and appetite stimulant....but she's still not wanting to eat. I am properly freaked out that they could be missing an obstruction and that we could be wasting precious time. Has anyone dealt with an obstruction that didn't show up on X-rays or ultrasounds? She hasn't eaten in 3 full days now and is lethargic.

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Willow

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Border Collie

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1 Year

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Critical severity

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Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Confusion
Absence Of Bowel Movement
Anorexia
Depression
Vomiting
Anxiety
Paranoia
Irritability
Lethargy
Burping

If you suspect your dog has an obstruction, DO NOT LEAVE THE VET UNTIL THEY HAVE CHECKED AND RE-CHECKED YOUR DOGS GI TRACT. My dog Willow died yesterday because of a negligent vet. Willow was just over one year old when she died. I took her to the vet on Thursday with suspicion of obstruction. The vet felt her stomach, took an x-ray of her stomach and told me she had gas and inflammation due to gastroenteritis. He told me she likely got into something poisonous, or contracted a parasite or viral infection. I followed every instruction I received from the vet and force fed Willow wet dog food with a syringe, forced anti-nausea pills, antibiotic pills, and de-wormer down her throat. All the while, Willow was suffering from intestinal obstruction. She was literally dying while I was forcing drugs and food down her throat. I took Willow back to the vet first thing on Monday morning. We saw a different vet at the same office and he immediately felt the obstruction simply by performing a physical examination on the outside of her abdomen. He took Willow back for exploratory surgery. I cried, and told the vet I was so worried for my sweet pup, he reassured me she would likely be fine and that she had an 80% chance of a great recovery. Unfortunately, vet calls me mid-surgery to tell me the damage to Willow's small intestine was very bad. He said he could remove the damaged tissue and attempt to sew the remaining intestine back together. We agreed, we begged this vet to do anything in his power to save our Willow no matter what the cost might be. He agreed. Within 10 minutes, vet called us back to tell us he was making the decision to call it quits- that the damage was so extensive, he felt he wouldn't be able to save her. At that point we had no other choice but to drive to my daughters school, check her out, and deliver the horrible news. Her dog that she had worked with every single day rain, shine, snow, heat, didn't matter- my daughter, Willow and I LOVED agility training. Willow will be missed forever, and the experience of a negligent vet will never be forgotten or forgiven. I will take accountability for the towel she ate parts of, I am certainly to blame for that, and I will be sorry forever. But the vet ALLOWED my dog to suffer for DAYS and ultimately die on the operating table. My daughter and husband never got to say goodbye to Willow. My daughter didn't even know I was advised to bring her back to the vet. Again, if your dog is not acting like him or herself then something is not right. Do not give up on your pup until YOU KNOW they are fully recovered and well.

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Luna

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Brussels griffon

dog-age-icon

6 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Straining To Defecate
Not Willing To Go On A Walk

Luna has been feeling not well due to the high pollen count. About a week and a half ago, she got into my 70 year old aunt's used depends. SHe wasn't willing to walk, and not really eating, but I could get her to eat her favorite treats and about half her meals. I took her to the vet, and they did blood work, fluids, etc. No pain on examination. Yesterday, she accidently ate an entire 6 inch bully stick. Now there is some straining while she poos. She is finally walking again and eating normally, but not normal poo. Should I take her back to the vet again?

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Winston

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Goldendoodle

dog-age-icon

9 Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea

My dog (Winston) ate a couple of rawhide rolls about two weeks ago now. I was worried that he had an obstruction and he vomited once and was having very hard stools so I took him in 9 days ago from writing this. There was a blockage that they saw via X-Ray but thought he would be able to pass it. He seemed fine all week but starting yesterday he was having chronic diarrhea all day. The diarrhea has slowed down today but still having it. He doesn't show any other symptoms. Should I take him back in or wait it out?

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Jake

dog-breed-icon

Dachshund

dog-age-icon

2 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

No Bowel Movements

5 days ago our 2 year old dachshund Jake stopped defecating. We waited a day to see if he was just constipated but when our walks remained "fruitless" we took him to the vet. X-ray showed what looked like rocks and an open safety pin. We immediately had surgery done to remove the items. What couldn't be seen on x-ray was the plastic floss/toothpick also blocking his stomach. Luckily none of the items did any damage to his stomach and they were able to remove them easily in surgery. Jake made it through surgery and stayed at the hospital for 4 days. I am concerned as the after care instructions seem wrong. I am still keeping him quiet but he seems in pain and they did not send pain meds home with him. They said to feed him watered down wet food for ten days and then for a month regular wet food. After a month he could then go back to hard foods....this seems wrong. Can anyone tell me when a dog should be able to be introduced to dry food after this surgery?

Intestinal Obstruction Average Cost

From 220 quotes ranging from $800 - $7,000

Average Cost

$3,000

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Compare Pet Insurance & Wellness Plans

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