If your dog has a bowel obstruction they will not only be in a lot of pain, they will also be at risk for some serious consequences. A bowel obstruction is a blockage that prevents foods and fluids from passing through the GI tract. The blockage can either be partial or complete, and can cause problems with digestion as well as decreased blood flow to the bowels. When blood cannot reach the bowels, the tissues deteriorate and absorb toxic gastrointestinal contents. In severe cases, this can result in tissue death and septic peritonitis (a life-threatening inflammatory condition).
Some obstructions will pass on their own, but many will need to be removed through surgery. It is important to seek out treatment as soon as you see symptoms or suspect that your dog has consumed something indigestible. The longer you wait, the worse their prognosis will be.
Diagnosing a Dog Bowel Obstruction
Bowel obstructions are typically diagnosed through abdominal x-rays or ultrasounds which reveal the obstruction or gaseous, distended bowel loops.
Some veterinarians may also perform a gastric endoscopy, which is a procedure in which a tube with a camera is inserted through the mouth, down the esophagus, and into the stomach. This is a more serious procedure than an x-ray or ultrasound and requires sedation or anesthesia. However, it can be valuable if the object cannot otherwise be found or if the veterinarian is able to use small endoscopic tools to remove the obstruction during the exploration, rendering surgery unnecessary. Whether this is possible will depend on the size, type, and location of the object.
If the veterinarian is not able to locate the obstruction through an x-ray, ultrasound, or endoscopy -- and if testing has ruled out other medical conditions -- exploratory abdominal surgery may be necessary. This is what is referred to as a laparotomy and requires general anesthesia. Ideally, the veterinarian will be able to locate and remove the obstruction during this procedure.
Treating a Dog Bowel Obstruction
The goals of treatment for a bowel obstruction are to remove the obstruction, stabilize the dog, and repair affected tissues if possible. Treatment commonly involves the following:
- Hospitalize to correct dehydration and electrolyte balance with fluid therapy
- Removal of the obstruction, either with an endoscope or more commonly with surgery.
- If bowel tissues have deteriorated and/or died, the dead sections may need to be removed and the remainder sutured back together. This is referred to as resection and anastomosis.
- If torsion or bloat is present, the veterinarian will untwist the affected organs or tissues and then suture the stomach to the abdominal wall to prevent future twisting. This is called gastropexy.
- Following abdominal surgery, antibiotics may be prescribed to reduce the chance of infection. Medications to treat vomiting or stomach upset may also be prescribed.
- Your veterinarian will likely recommend a prescription or special diet for the dog to reduce the chances of stomach upset following surgery. Gradually you should be able to transition your dog back to their old food.
The prognosis will depend on the severity of the damage caused by the obstruction, the presence of any other issues (such as bloat), and how soon you seek treatment. Always contact your veterinarian if you notice any unusual symptoms or suspect that your dog has swallowed something indigestible.
How to Prevent a Dog Bowel Obstruction
Most bowel obstructions are caused by ingested foreign objects. Therefore, dogs should be discouraged from chewing or picking up items that are not intended for consumption. Tempting items should be kept on high shelves or locked away in cupboards, trash cans and closets should be secured, and dogs should be supervised when exploring outside or in new environments.
In addition, some veterinarians take issue with certain items intended for dogs, such as rawhides, hooves, and pig ears since large pieces can be broken off and end up lodged in the GI tract. Ask your veterinarian to recommend appropriate chews and toys for your dog.
Never give your dog cooked bones, as they splinter easily and commonly cause obstruction.
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