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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 fairly common in dogs as they are often 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 is very painful for dogs and can be quite dangerous 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.

Intestinal Obstruction Average Cost

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

Average Cost

$3,000

Symptoms of Intestinal Obstruction in Dogs

Symptoms 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 and bones are the most common causes. Other causes include toys, clothes, towels, stuffed animals, rocks, sticks, tennis balls, shoelaces, hair ties/bands and ribbon.
  • 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 and bones are the most common causes. Other causes include toys, clothes, towels, stuffed animals, rocks, sticks, tennis balls, shoelaces, hair ties/bands and ribbon.
  • 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 induce vomiting. If you don’t see the actual event but are noticing symptoms, it is critical to see the veterinarian for an examination. A history will determine if the pet has ingested any dangerous item or if he has gotten into the trash. A physical examination will feel the abdomen to reveal masses, intussusception, pain or foreign object.

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 white on x-ray. The pet will drink the barium and a series of x-rays a few minutes apart will be taken to follow the flow of barium through the stomach and intestines. 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) will 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 symptoms of intestinal obstruction, it may be too late for vomiting to be sufficient treatment.

Hospitalization and Stabilization

As intestinal obstruction is 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 enema to attempt to speed up the process. Continued radiographs will examine any 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 be continued for 2-3 weeks 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. Even with surgery, gastric dilatation volvulus has a mortality rate of greater than 50 percent.

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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 24 hours 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. Dogs are often repeat offenders will need surgery each time an obstruction occurs. Keep pets from chewing things they could swallow or tear up and then swallow. Rawhides, cow hooves, pig ears and other bones are common causes. 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 on average. The doctor may require blood testing to determine any infections. Blood testing can cost between $20 and $75. An abdominal radiograph may be necessary for a better view of what and where the object is. This test can cost between $130 and $150. If the doctor needs a better view, she may order an ultrasound that can cost $230 to $340. 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 cost $67 to $75. If the object cannot be extracted by vomiting, then the veterinarian may need to do a laparotomy. This will require a general anesthesia and can cost between $440 and $650. Finally, your dog will need a variety of medications along the way and once released from the hospital. Antibiotics run $10 to $30, Tramadol or other pain medications can cost $65, and an antiemetic for the nausea can cost $10-$20.

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Intestinal Obstruction Average Cost

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

Average Cost

$3,000

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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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Bordoodle

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17 weeks

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Lack Of Appetite

My almost 4 month old 32 pound seems to be less interested in his food. We recently increased his portion of Purina pro plan Large breed puppy food to 2 cups twice a day because at his last vet visit they suggested me increase his food. He seems to be less interested in his food and not as hungry, his bowel movements are the same as they have always been in size and consistency and he seems to have plenty of energy. I don’t think he has gotten into anything and he has no other symptoms other than not being as excited about food so I am wondering if the 4 cups of food a day is just too much.

Aug. 3, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello, It may be a little too much right now for him but as he grows he will start to eat more food. You can try feeding 1.5 cups twice a day instead of 2 to see if that helps.

Aug. 3, 2020

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Chihuahua

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9 months

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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

Straining To Defecate

My dog is straining to poop and has a little blood around his anal area. He vomited twice a few hours ago and a short time ago he threw up a little bike. When should I be concerned about an obstruction?

Aug. 2, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. At this point I'm not sure that I would be worried about an obstruction, but it would be possible that he has an intestinal infection or a foreign body if he is eating things he shouldn't. Because he is vomiting, and also straining to defecate and has blood in the stool, it would be a good idea to have him seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. They can examine him, see what might be causing this, and discuss treatment with you. I hope that everything goes well for him.

Aug. 2, 2020

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Pit Bull

dog-age-icon

Four Years

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Noisy Breathing

My dog has no appetite labored breathing,tender abdomen, thin stool abdomen seems larger and has a hard time get up from laying down.she was given ivermectin two days ago could she have a blockage from worm kill off.can I give her a water eniam

July 20, 2020

Owner

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Jessica N. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello- Your dog sounds very ill to me. I would recommend taking her to a veterinarian or a veterinary ER immediately. I think it is highly unlikely it is related to intestinal parasites. Your veterinarian will be able to take an x-ray to see what is going on internally with her. I hope she feels better soon.

July 20, 2020

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German Shepherd

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Ten Months

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Vomiting

My dog may or may not have swallowed a piece of a security camera on Tuesday. She was fine until Thursday when she vomited 3 times in one day but hasn’t vomited since then. She is still eating and drinking and playing but she had diarrhea this morning and hasn’t pooped since. I’m worried she may have a partial obstruction but she is acting fine other than the not pooping today.

July 19, 2020

Owner

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Jessica N. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello- Thank you for reaching out and for your question. I would recommend feeding her a bland diet of chicken and rice for 48-72 hours then slowly transitioning her back to her regular diet. If her stool worsens or she begins vomiting again at all then I would recommend seeing your veterinarian and having an x-ray performed to rule out a GI obstruction. She is likely not stooling more today as the diarrhea may have emptied her colon, but I do think if she becomes lethargic, vomits again or does not eat that you should see your veterinarian immediately. I hope she feels better soon!

July 19, 2020

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Lhasa Apso

dog-age-icon

Two Years

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Constipation

My dog is having bowl obstruction surgery tomorrow. Is the bowl obstruction the reason he can’t poop even if there is poop in his colon

July 14, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. The bowel obstruction is likely causing all kinds of problems with his GI tract, and constipation may be one of those things. I hope that all goes well for him with his surgery!

July 14, 2020

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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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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

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

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

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

dog-breed-icon

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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