Bowel Blockage in Dogs

Ideally, whatever your dog devours goes through his intestinal system without incident, with waste material eventually coming out his back end. That doesn't happen when he suffers a complete or partial bowel blockage. While the former soon becomes life-threatening, the latter can persist with milder symptoms for some time. If your dog exhibits bowel blockage symptoms, take him to the vet immediately for diagnosis and treatment.

chuhuahua and bone on a summer day
A dog is chewing on a bone.
credit: lilu13/iStock/Getty Images

Bowel Blockage Symptoms

While bowel blockage symptoms vary depending on the cause of the obstruction, most dogs exhibit vomiting, whether frequent or sporadic. Other signs include appetite loss, dehydration, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Dogs with partial bowel blockage might lose weight.

Foreign Objects

Dogs are omnivores, and many take that definition to extremes. The most frequent type of gastrointestinal obstruction results from dogs consuming foreign objects, which then get stuck in the digestive tract. Should the foreign body contain toxic elements, the dog might experience seizures or red blood cell destruction. If the object perforates the intestine, sepsis -- whole body inflammation -- or peritonitis can result. If you know or suspect that your dog ate a certain item, tell your vet.

Intestinal Tumors

Intestinal tumors can cause bowel blockage. Dogs suffering from intestinal tumors are generally middle-aged or older, with males more often affected than females. Dogs with intestinal tumors might experience tarry or maroon-colored stools, difficulty defecating, fever, anemia and weight loss.

Bowel Blockage Diagnosis

Your vet diagnoses a bowel blockage with a physical examination, followed by X-rays and ultrasound. She'll also conduct a complete blood count, urinalysis, complete chemistry profile and fecal testing. While imaging usually indicates whether a foreign body or a tumor is the culprit, if there is no definite diagnosis, your vet might perform an exploratory laparotomy, opening the abdominal wall surgically to pin down the cause of the obstruction.

Bowel Blockage Treatment

If your dog's bowel blockage results from eating an inappropriate object, he may require surgery. Removal of the foreign body is performed either via endoscope or full surgical incision, depending on the item's size, location and whether there are multiple pieces. While the prognosis for dogs treated early is good, it's a different story if sepsis or peritonitis has developed. The former requires aggressive antibiotic and antimicrobial treatment, while the latter requires antibiotics and drains. Dogs diagnosed with intestinal cancer will have tumors removed through surgery, with the prognosis depending on whether the cancer has spread.