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Intestinal obstruction in dogs: causes, symptoms and treatment

Whether young or old, dogs can suffer from intestinal obstruction. It is a frequent health problem in these pets and its seriousness should not be ignored. At the slightest symptom, it is essential to consult a veterinarian as a matter of urgency because this obstruction can be fatal if care is not taken within a very short time. Zoom on intestinal obstruction, its different forms, its causes, its manifestations, the treatments considered and the means to avoid it as much as possible.

What is intestinal obstruction and what causes it?

A bowel obstruction occurs when the bowel functions only partially or not at all. Fecal matter is mechanically blocked.

The intestinal obstruction presents itself in two distinct forms, namely
  • The intestinal sub-occlusion which is a partial occlusion: the intestinal transit of the dog is blocked only partially, the animal being able to evacuate a small quantity of stools. It can be caused by a foreign body of moderate size or when the digestive tunics interlock. In this case, a succession of intestinal coves can be seen on imaging.
  • Total intestinal obstruction: the transit is totally blocked, the dog does not evacuate its stools anymore. Again, this can be caused by the ingestion of a foreign body which remains blocked in the small intestine for example. But other causes are possible, such as
    • The accumulation of a large volume of fecal matter in the intestine: this is called fecal impaction,
    • A contamination of the intestine by parasites (intestinal worms),
    • A hematoma,
    • An umbilical hernia,
    • A large tumor.

Intestinal occlusion: symptoms

Of brutal appearance, the symptoms which must alert the owner of the animal are the following:
  • Excessive salivation,
  • A decrease in appetite,
  • Diarrhea, sometimes very liquid and/or bloody,
  • Constipation,
  • The almost total cessation of stool emission,
  • Weak vomiting at the beginning, which intensifies thereafter and exhales a fecal odor,
  • A great fatigue,
  • A distension of the abdomen,
  • A perceptible mass on palpation of the belly,
  • Abdominal pain that the dog tries to relieve by adopting a particular position, i.e. the hindquarters in the air and the front legs lying on the ground (this is called the prayer position).
If one or more of these signs are observed, the dog should be taken to the veterinary clinic or office as soon as possible.

Bowel obstruction in dogs: treatment

Because a dog with a bowel obstruction may be life-threatening, it is essential that the dog be examined by the veterinarian and treated. In order to make a diagnosis, the veterinarian will palpate the abdomen, then perform an ultrasound or an X-ray, and even take a blood sample to check the possible repercussions of the obstruction on the general state of his little patient.

The treatment must favour the intestinal transit. It is therefore initially limited to a lubricant in the form of medication. In the most serious cases, especially in the case of total intestinal obstruction, it may be necessary to perform a surgical intervention. The dog is first anesthetized and then undergoes an enterostomy. The foreign body responsible for the damage is removed through an incision in the intestine or stomach.

However, it can also happen that the foreign body is stuck in the upper part of the digestive tract. In this case, the veterinarian performs an endoscopy. He introduces a mini-camera into the mouth of the dog and then inserts it into the throat, esophagus, etc. This investigation allows to visualize and identify the foreign body and to localize its position. Thanks to a forceps it can be removed. After the operation, the dog is rehydrated for a few hours by means of a perfusion.

Finally, when the occlusion is due to a tumor or other cause, a very specific care protocol is obviously decided by the veterinarian in a personalized way.

Afterwards, the dog must be able to follow a diet adapted to the veterinarian's prescription. This allows the animal to eat only particularly digestible food. The goal is to rebalance the intestinal transit. When the time comes to give the dog a normal diet, the change of diet must be done gradually to avoid any disturbance in the digestive system.

In order to promote the proper functioning of your dog's intestines, it is imperative to limit the sedentary lifestyle as much as possible. The animal must be able to exercise on a daily basis because physical activity favors intestinal transit and consequently limits the risks of obstruction. Of course, it is important to be vigilant and avoid that he swallows toys or parts of plastic toys, pieces of string or bones for example, because this can lead to a partial or total intestinal obstruction.

Caution should be taken with puppies who may ingest substances or objects of any kind, as it is largely with their mouths that they discover their environment. Finally, since large dogs can ingest larger volumes than small dogs, they are more at risk of intestinal obstruction due to a foreign body.