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Bowel Obstruction in Dogs: Signs, Symptoms & Treatment

Bowel Obstruction in Dogs: Signs, Symptoms & Treatment

A bowel obstruction, also known as a gastrointestinal blockage, is a common canine problem. Our Kingman vets discuss what bowel obstructions in dogs are, what the symptoms are and how they are treated.

What is Intestinal Obstruction?

Intestinal obstruction in dogs occurs when there is a complete or partial blockage of fluid and food flow through the small intestines. This can be a common issue among dogs as many are naturally drawn to eating or chewing on almost anything.

When a dog is experiencing obstruction, the lack of blood supply to the GI tract can lead to necrosis (death) of intestinal tissue and increase the risk of perforation. When perforation occurs bacteria from the bowels can spill into the abdominal cavity causing septic peritonitis. 

It is incredibly important to contact your vet or bring your dog to an emergency vet clinic immediately if you suspect an intestinal obstruction. Obstructions can be extremely painful for your pet and can be fatal if left untreated.

Symptoms of Intestinal Obstruction in Dogs

Signs 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

Causes of Intestinal Obstruction in Dogs

There are two main types of bowel obstruction in dogs, they are:

Gastric Outflow Obstruction

The causes of gastric outflow obstruction may include:
  • Ingestion of objects that cannot be broken down through digestion. Rawhides, bones, toys, clothes, towels, stuffed animals, rocks, sticks, tennis balls, shoelaces, hair ties/bands and ribbon are some causes for this that can occur.
  • Abdominal tumor
  • Gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and small intestine)
  • Pyloric stenosis (narrowing of the pyloric sphincter)
  • Gastric dilatation-volvulus (twisting of the stomach)

Small Intestinal Obstruction

The causes of small intestinal obstruction may include:
  • Ingestion of objects that cannot be broken down through digestion. Rawhides, bones, toys, clothes, towels, stuffed animals, rocks, sticks, tennis balls, shoelaces, hair ties/bands and ribbon are some causes for this that can occur.
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Intestinal stricture (narrowing of the intestine)
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Abdominal tumor
  • Hernia
  • Intussusception (folding of the intestine)

Diagnosis of Intestinal Obstruction in Dogs

It is imperative that you bring your dog to the veterinarian immediately if you discover that they have swallowed an object that is sharp or too large to pass. If you did not witness your dog swallowing but are noticing symptoms then you should bring your pup in for an exam where your vet will feel the abdomen to reveal masses, intussusception, pain or foreign objects.

If your veterinarian diagnoses your dog with an obstruction they may order blood testing in order to identify anemia or infection. Your vet also may also utilize diagnostics such as radiographs or ultrasound in order to determine the object, its size as well as its location within the body.

If diagnostics indicate an intestinal obstruction then your vet will decide on treatment, which could involve inducing vomiting or surgery if necessary. 

Treatment of Intestinal Obstruction in Dogs

There are many forms of treatment for obstructions such as:

Hospitalization and Stabilization

As intestinal obstruction can be life-threatening. Once the 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 medical therapy to attempt to speed up the process. Continued radiographs can help in examining the movement of the object.

Inducing Vomiting

If the object was recently swallowed and has not yet become an intestinal obstruction then your vet may be able to induce vomiting in order to remove the object. Afterward, your dog will be able to go home and you will have to monitor their appetite, vomiting, and normal bowel movements (to ensure all potential danger of obstruction was eliminated through vomiting).

Unfortunately, if your pet is already presenting signs of intestinal obstruction then it may already be too late for inducing vomiting to be a recommended treatment option.


Gastric dilatation-volvulus requires immediate surgery. In the case of foreign objects causing blockages, your dog will be put under general anesthesia and your vet will remove the object along with any damaged or dead tissue along.

Resection and Anastomosis

If your vet discovers any dead tissue they will surgically remove it during the removal of the object. They will then close the intestines and examine them for any possible spots of leakage. There is an increased risk of complications if this is the procedure that is chosen for your pet. 


If your dog is suffering from gastric dilatation-volvulus, your vet will suture the stomach to the intestinal wall in order to prevent a recurrence. Certain breeds of dogs, such as those with deep chests, are more susceptible and may have this surgery as a preventative measure.

Recovery of Intestinal Obstruction in Dogs

Once the surgery is complete then your dog may stay in the hospital for an additional 2 to 3 days as a precautionary measure. Your vet will administer antibiotics, pain medications, and anti-emetics (anti-nausea medications) as needed. Your vet will most likely recommend oral medication to be continued once your dog has been released.

The key to the successful treatment of intestinal blockages in dogs is to have your pet examined at the first sign of a blockage. If left untreated, blockages can quickly become fatal.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Are you concerned that your dog may be suffering from a bowel obstruction? Contact our Kingman vets immediately to have your dog examined.

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