A dog getting his belly rubbed showing his stomach.

Get the Facts About Bowel Obstruction in Dogs

Dogs are notorious for eating or swallowing things they shouldn’t … which can cause bowel obstructions! Here’s what pup parents need to know about bowel obstruction in dogs.
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Most dogs simply can’t resist the allure of an open garbage can, or deny their natural canine instincts to devour plush toys. But, unfortunately, if Fido manages to snatch a leftover chicken bone or plays a little too rough with his squeaky toys, it can lead to a bowel obstruction: a blockage of the GI tract that prevents food and blood flow to the bowels and causes your four-legged friend a great deal of pain. Let’s learn more about bowel obstruction in dogs — and how to handle a bowel obstruction in dogs.

Causes of Bowel Obstruction in Dogs

A puppy on a grass green area, squatting / pooping.
What causes bowel obstruction in dogs? Photography © DieterMeyrl | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

“Bowel obstruction in dogs is most often a result of indiscretion,” says Dr. Taylor Howard, DVM, of University Veterinary Hospital and Diagnostic Center in Utah. “Dogs can and will often swallow objects that are too big to pass through the entire intestinal tract.”

The items that pose the most risk? Pieces of clothing (because what dog doesn’t love gnawing on a pair of stinky socks?) or chunks of toys that accidentally break off during play. “Toys should be tried and tested, and trusted not to have small pieces that can be consumed,” Dr. Howard adds.

According to Dr. Brian J. Bourquin, DVM, veterinarian and owner of Boston Veterinary Clinic, other common causes of bowel obstruction in dogs include corn cobs, acorns, pieces of bone and fruit pits, as well as plastic bags, diapers and even feminine hygiene products.

How to Prevent Bowel Obstruction in Dogs

It may be impossible to stop your dog from wanting to munch on anything he finds on the ground, but for pet parents, he says the key to preventing bowel obstruction in dogs is thinking like a dog — particularly if you have a puppy at home.

“Puppies explore the world with their mouths, so the first thing you need to do is get on your hands and knees and locate and secure all those possible dangers, such as locking the lid on your garbage can,” Dr. Bourquin advises. “And when walking your dog, it’s not the time to be playing on your phone — your dog is going to spot that chicken bone three blocks before you do.”

Of course, bowel obstruction in dogs can happen at any age. “Other than not allowing your dog to chew on animal bones, my number one piece of advice is know your dog — some dogs can chew on a stuffed animal for three years without any issues, and others will destroy it in five minutes,” Dr. Bourquin says.

How to Tell if Your Dog Has a Bowel Obstruction

If you don’t happen to catch your pooch in the act of raiding your trash can or laundry hamper — as is most often the case — you might get clued into the fact that your dog swallowed something he shouldn’t have if he is vomiting or retching or straining to defecate.

Your dog may also be lethargic, and show signs of a painful or tense abdomen. “Some pets will grunt and have a lot of gas when the abdomen is pressed upon,” Dr. Howard explains.

Dr. Bourquin notes that if your dog is continuing to eat normally but not passing stool, that’s a clear indication that a bowel obstruction in dogs might be at play. “Vomiting is always the first clue, but if your dog is either having diarrhea — or not passing stool at all — that can also indicate an obstruction,” he says.

Treating Bowel Obstruction in Dogs

Once your veterinarian rules out conditions like pancreatitis, Dr. Howard explains that treatment for bowel obstruction in dogs may include supportive care with continuous IV fluid therapy, pain management, correction of electrolyte imbalances, and GI supportive medications such as anti-nausea and protective antacids. “If the cause was not thought to be digestible or passable with this approach, then surgical removal through a ventral mid-line incision is needed to identify the obstruction,” he explains.

If caught early enough, your veterinarian may be able to induce vomiting to help your pet regurgitate whatever he or she ate before it has the chance to pass into the intestines and get stuck. In some cases, an endoscopy can also be performed in an attempt to retrieve the item. “A radiograph may be used to spot dense items like rocks, coins and bones, but if your dog managed to eat a plastic bag of piece of diaper, it may only show up on an ultrasound,” Dr. Bourquin says.

What Is the Prognosis for Bowel Obstruction in Dogs?

The prognosis for a bowel obstruction in dogs is determined by how much time passed before treatment, and if the intestines got damaged in the process.

Dr. Howard explains that if your veterinarian has reason to believe that the intestines were perforated due to lack of blood flow and ulceration, then segments of the intestines will need to be removed … and the prognosis becomes much more serious.  “The window of opportunity is really within 24 to 48 hours,” he warns. “Please do not hesitate to call your veterinarian if you’re concerned.”

Thumbnail:  Photography © GeorgePeters | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

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7 thoughts on “Get the Facts About Bowel Obstruction in Dogs”

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  5. PLZ HELP
    My dog became letharic with fever,vomiting ,dark diarrhea no appetite immediately took him to his vet doctor gave him infections meds (by the way this was Friday) after a scary horrible weekend he barely made it to monday first thing in the morning I took him to the vet at this point vet decides he needs to stay in the office they would start on iv n stronger meds he would b at the hospital all day n we care for him all night since the hospital had nobody physically there at night n we didn’t feel comfortable leaving him so we did that for 5 days we notice he was finally having a little bit of energy we started feeding him chicken n rice purée food it’s been 17 days since I first took him to the vet he is little by little getting his energy back he still on chicken n rice we still blend it since every time we try to give it to him just shredded he vomits so he only tolerates it purée no fever he still resting a lot but did I forget to mention he is a 11 yr old male pit bull anyways my biggest concern right now is he is deficating brown normal color soft stools with some long pieces of mucus with blood then right after that he releases like a jam bloody stool he looks very uncomfortable.The doctor did xrays she did not find nothing concerning she did the dye n a second x ray n again ntn what do I do to help my poor boy ??

    1. Hi there Gloria,

      Thanks for reaching out! We suggest talking to your vet about this. It is also encouraged to seek a second opinion and bring your dog to another vet for professional help.

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