Dogs are often compared to toddlers, especially younger pups. They explore and investigate the world around them with their mouths, often chewing on or swallowing things that they shouldn’t.
Most dog parents are aware of the risks of eating toxic or poisonous items such as household chemicals. However, there is another very common risk to consider. Today, we’re going to look at the risks of an obstruction or blockage in dogs and how you can keep your dog safe.
What is a Blockage or Obstruction in Dogs?
The terms ‘blockage’ or ‘obstruction’ refers to a situation in which a dog has ingested something that its body is unable to break down. This foreign body, whatever it may be, then becomes stuck or logged somewhere in the digestive tract blocking other substances from being able to pass by. This most often occurs in the stomach or the intestines. The blockage itself could be complete, blocking all solids or liquids from passing through, or partial.
Not only do these blockages interrupt the flow of food and sustenance through the digestive tract, but they can also decrease blood flow to the bowels. Over time, this can kill off portions of the bowels causing further complications including the potential release of toxic contents into your dog’s abdominal area. Additionally, the foreign object may perforate the stomach or intestines.
What Causes a Blockage or Obstruction in Dogs?
While there are some medical conditions or types of tumors that could potentially cause this to occur, the most common reason is that your dog has eaten something that he or she shouldn’t. This could include pieces of his dog toys, clothing, towels, stuffed animals, sticks, shoelaces, hair ties, bone, rocks, or any other non-food item that he or she may have been chewing on or playing with.
Signs and Symptoms of a Blockage in Dogs
Unfortunately, the signs of intestinal blockage in dogs or bowel obstruction in dogs don’t show until the dog is already starting to experience discomfort from the foreign object trying to work through their system and so they should be treated as an emergency. The most common signs of a blockage in dogs include:
- Whining or Hunching
- Excessive Drooling
- Stomach/Abdominal Pain
- Loss of Appetite
- Vomiting (Often Repetitive)
- Straining During Bowel Movements or Unable to Defecate
- Weakness or Unsteadiness
- Refusing to Lie Down/Unable to Get Comfortable
If you notice any of these signs or have reason to suspect that your dog has eaten something that he shouldn’t, contact your veterinarian immediately. If left unaddressed, the condition will continue to get more painful and dangerous for your pet and is often fatal. Time is of the essence!
Treatment of a Blockage or Obstruction in Dogs
Treatment of a blockage in the digestive tract will depend on how long it has been since your dog ingested the foreign body and where the blockage has occurred. If you have managed to catch the problem early enough, your veterinarian may be able to induce vomiting to prevent the item from making its way further along through the body. However, this should not be attempted at home unless under the direction of a medical professional. If the blockage has progressed too far, this could cause more harm than good.
Alternatively, if the item is still in the stomach the veterinarian may choose to carry out a procedure called a gastrointestinal endoscopy. Using a thin tube with an attached camera and clasping mechanism, the veterinarian locates the item and removes it carefully through the dog’s throat. While this may sound scary, it is far less invasive than surgery.
If an obstruction has formed already, surgery will be required. This involves opening the abdomen or intestines to remove the foreign object from the body and clear the blockage. Depending on the severity of the blockage and the specific item responsible, this surgery may be a relatively easy and straightforward procedure, or it may be far more in-depth and invasive. In either situation, there is a good chance that your dog will need to remain with your veterinarian for supportive care and supervision.
The good news is that most dogs will recover if they receive treatment early enough!
How to Prevent a Blockage in Your Dog Before It Happens
As with many veterinary emergencies, the best approach to keeping your dog safe from a blockage or obstruction is to prevent it from ever occurring. While there are no guarantees, following these tips will help you greatly reduce the chances of your dog experiencing a blockage.
Remove Any Temptations
Have you noticed that your dog is obsessed with a particular item in the home, such as socks, hair ties, or even rocks? The best way to avoid this becoming a medical issue is to make sure that these items aren’t left out where your dog can get them. This includes regularly cleaning up any items you see on the floor, keeping laundry tucked away in a hamper (with a lid, if necessary), and storing items in a secure location out of your dog’s reach.
Our new puppy Lucifer, for example, is obsessed with flip-flops. If given the opportunity, he will carry them all over the house, chewing on them at will. We used to leave our shoes and sandals by the door on a low shoe rack, but we now have to take the step to place the flip flops specifically up and out of his reach.
Dispose of Worn or Damaged Toys
Your dog’s toys should be a positive thing in their lives, a distraction from chewing on the things that he shouldn’t. However, if your dog has been working on a specific toy for a while now, you may be noticing signs of wear or tear.
Regularly check over your pup’s favorite toys and remove any that are damaged and can’t be repaired. Pay careful attention to rubber ‘chew toys’ that are starting to break down as your dog can get pieces off these toys and swallow them while chewing. Not only are these toys long-lasting when your dog is chewing, but they will also stand up to your dog’s digestive system. This means swallowing these pieces can easily cause a blockage in dogs.
Limit Toys When Unsupervised
Many in the pet industry will recommend the use of toys to distract your dog if he is suffering from separation anxiety or simply needs to be occupied while you are getting work done at home. However, you should be careful which toys your dog is being left with when you’re not around.
Any toys that can be easily damaged by your dog should be put away when your dog is alone. What this includes will depend on the dog. Our boy Indiana doesn’t have much interest in toys while our girl Daviana should only be left with the most extreme or heavy-duty toy options at her disposal.
Train Key Commands Like ‘Leave It’ and ‘Drop’
No matter how hard you try to keep your dog safe, there are going to be times that they find something that they shouldn’t. This could be an item accidentally left out at home or even some garbage tossed on the side of the road during your daily walk. The commands ‘leave it’ and ‘drop’ will empower you to take control of the situation if this happens.
If you notice that you are approaching something that may be tempting for your dog and your dog is now heading directly towards it, the ‘leave it’ command will tell your dog to avoid this item. Redirect your dog’s attention back to you and steer clear of the risk. If, however, your dog has found something and already has it in his mouth, ‘drop’ will quickly address the concern head-on.
Use a Muzzle While Outdoors, if Necessary
Whether you are struggling to train a stubborn dog or simply at the start of your training journey and not comfortable with your dog’s ability to follow these commands yet, you may choose to use a muzzle when outdoors. Walking your dog outdoors means that you are in an uncontrolled environment, you never know what you may encounter.
Muzzles get a bad reputation as they are often associated with aggression and abuse. However, a properly fit muzzle will allow your dog to have room to pant properly while still preventing him from being able to pick up random items along the way. Besides, the inconvenience of wearing a muzzle is far better than the pain and recovery that comes following surgery for an intestinal blockage in dogs.
Have you ever had an experience with obstructions or blockage in dogs? If so, what signs did you first recognize? Any tips for newer dog owners?
About the Author: Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 3 dogs – Daviana, Indiana, and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering, and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.