Does your dog ever chew up or consume items that they shouldn’t? If so, they are at great risk for bowel obstruction. Bowel obstruction -- also known as intestinal obstruction or gastrointestinal obstruction -- describes any situation in which there is a partial or complete blockage that interferes with the flow of foods and fluids through the GI tract. This not only causes digestive problems for your dog, it can also weaken the blood supply to the bowels, which can result in deterioration of the bowels, tissue death, and septic peritonitis -- an often deadly inflammatory condition.
Some blockages manage to pass without surgical intervention. Others do not, and can prove fatal if left untreated. Here we will look at the causes and symptoms of bowel obstruction in dogs so that you will know when it’s time to seek help.
Causes of Bowel Obstruction in Dogs
There are two types of bowel obstruction in dogs: gastric outflow obstruction and small intestine obstruction. Gastric outflow obstruction occurs when there is a blockage at the pylorus, which is the part of the stomach that connects to the small intestine. A small intestine obstruction occurs when there is a blockage in the path of the small intestine.
There are many problems that can lead to both types of bowel obstruction, but by far the most common is ingestion of a foreign body. Dogs are curious creatures, puppies especially, and they like to explore, often with their mouths. This sometimes means consuming items that they shouldn’t, such as sticks, rocks, or fabrics. Other dogs are serious chewers who easily break apart toys, balls, bones, or rawhides and swallow the pieces.
The second most common cause of bowel obstruction is intussusception, in which a portion of the small intestine slides into the next, much like a telescope. This causes a blockage that results in swelling and decreased blood flow to the affected parts of the intestine. Intussusceptions typically occur in puppies and young dogs.
Bowel obstructions can also result from certain medical conditions including tumors, ulcers, hernias, gastritis (inflammation of stomach lining), gastroenteritis (inflammation of the GI tract), intestinal stricture (narrowing of the intestine), pyloric stenosis (narrowing of the pylorus), and volvulus (torsion, bloat).
In addition, puppies are at risk for bowel obstruction caused by severe roundworm infestation.
Symptoms of Bowel Obstruction in Dogs
The symptoms of bowel instruction can vary depending on the location of the blockage and whether the blockage is partial or complete. Some common symptoms include:
- Vomiting, usually with abdominal contractions. May be projectile if the obstruction is in the upper small intestine. If in the lower GI tract, the vomit may be brown and foul-smelling.
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal distention
- Loss of appetite
- Dogs with partial obstructions may burp and have diarrhea or dark stools. Dogs with complete obstructions will not pass any gas or feces.
Seek Help If You See Symptoms
It is incredibly important to seek veterinary attention if your dog is exhibiting symptoms of a bowel obstruction. An obstruction that is left untreated can cut off blood supply to the bowels, which can cause the tissues of the bowels to deteriorate and absorb dangerous gastrointestinal contents. When this happens, a very serious and very painful condition called septic peritonitis can result. Septic peritonitis can be fatal if not treated quickly.
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