Bowel Obstruction in Dogs: Signs, Causes, Treatment and Prevention Tips

Ingesting common household items often causes bowel obstruction in dogs. If your dog shows signs, such as vomiting, diarrhea or lethargy, take him to the veterinarian immediately.

Sick Bulldog on Veterinarian's Table
Signs of bowel obstruction in dogs, includes lethargy, loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting and diarrhea. © LWA/Getty Images
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If your dog has a habit of eating foreign objects from around the house, you’re not alone. This is a common behavior in many dogs, with serious consequences. Bowel obstruction in dogs can quickly escalate to a life-threatening emergency. Know the signs and causes, so you can get the best treatment, plus learn how to prevent this emergency.

What is a bowel obstruction?

Bowel obstructions occur when a dog’s stomach becomes partially or fully blocked, so food or water cannot pass through your pup. As a result, dogs become dehydrated and malnourished. In severe cases, bowel obstructions can cause electrolyte imbalances and permanent damage or perforation of the intestines.

Common causes of bowel obstruction

Common household items cause bowel obstructions in dogs. These include:

  • Socks and underwear
  • Bones
  • Corn cobs and fruit pits
  • String
  • Floss
  • Tampons

Aside from ingesting household items, bowel obstructions can stem from:

  • Intestinal masses
  • Severe intestinal inflammation
  • Severe constipation
  • Intussusception (folding of the intestines)

Signs of bowel obstruction in dogs

Common signs of bowel obstructions include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

Dogs with partial obstructions may experience the above symptoms with less severity or experience the symptoms intermittently.

Dog bowel obstruction treatment

The cause for your dog’s bowel obstruction will dictate his treatment plan.

If you know or are concerned that your dog has ingested a foreign object or your dog is displaying symptoms of an obstruction, consult your veterinarian immediately!

Bowel obstructions related to foreign objects can sometimes be managed by inducing vomiting. This should only be done under the direct supervision of your veterinary team and immediately after ingestion has occurred. Some dogs, depending on their size and what was ingested, may  pass the object naturally.

Your veterinarian may run additional diagnostics, including:

  • Physical exam
  • Radiographs
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Bloodwork

Often, bowel obstruction cases require surgical intervention. Depending on your dog’s condition, IV fluids and supportive care are given prior to surgery. Your dog will undergo general anesthesia before your veterinarian makes a surgical incision into the intestines to remove the obstruction. The vet may need to remove portions of dead and necrotized intestinal tissue.

Dogs who ingest foreign objects are often repeat offenders. If your dog has lost some of his intestines or has scar tissue as a result of previous obstructions, treating future obstructions is riskier.

How to help your dog pass the obstruction

Some dogs, depending on their size and what was ingested, may pass the object naturally. If your dog’s condition appears stable and non-painful, performing gentle massage can promote healthy movement of your pup’s bowels and overall gut motility, potentially helping to naturally pass the obstruction.

Here is a step-by-step article discussing how to massage your dog to help him poop. If you know your dog ingested something sharp, such as glass, never attempt to help him pass the obstruction. Discontinue the massage session if your dog displays distress or his condition worsens.

Preventing bowel obstruction

To minimize future risk of your dog swallowing something, make some changes to your household management style. Just follow these tips:

  • Remove your dog’s access to trash. Keep trash in a dog-proof container and keep trashcans covered.
  • Eliminate bones as treats by not offering them to your dog or keeping them in a covered trashcan.
  • Track when items are missing and consider if your dog could have swallowed them.
  • Supervise your dog with toys. Remove any toys that are falling apart or have pieces your dog may swallow.
  • Remove non-food items from your dog’s reach. Keep counters clean for those counter-surging dogs and items off the floor.
  • Watch for signs and symptoms

Most dogs with bowel obstructions make a complete recovery, but early intervention is key. Do not ignore signs and do not assume that your pup will pass an obstruction naturally. If your pup has already gone through a bowel obstruction, the biggest means to prevention will be minimizing risk. I hope this does not become your dog’s “thing,” but if it does, these tips may save his life!

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