10 Signs of Intestinal Blockage in Dogs and What to Do

An intestinal blockage, a stomach ache, and bloat are easily confused. Learn what separates blockages from other health issues.

Published April 8, 2023

If your dog has a habit of eating things they shouldn't, an intestinal blockage is a definite possibility, especially if you don't prevent the behavior. If your dog gets into a non-food item, it's important to know what to expect along with what you should do in that circumstance. If you dog hasn't yet been in this kind of trouble, take measures to keep this from happening in the first place.

Signs of a Blockage

Most signs of gastrointestinal blockage - also known as a bowel obstruction - aren't given a second thought because owners think it's likely just an upset stomach. Even we, as humans, aren't likely to call the doctor for a stomachache. So, it's not surprising dog lovers don't think about making a vet appointment for a bellyache they think will go away soon.

Unfortunately, the signs of a bowel obstruction are mostly the same as an upset stomach:

  1. Nausea
  2. Repetitive vomiting
  3. Lack of appetite
  4. Excessive whining
  5. Restlessness
  6. Diarrhea
  7. Difficulty pooping
  8. Bloating
  9. Painful abdomen
  10. Lethargy and weakness

Keep a close eye on your dog if you see two or more of these symptoms, and take them directly to your vet if you suspect they may have a blockage. If your dog vomits over and over, and they aren't pooping, this is a very strong indicator that something is blocking their digestive track.

Need to Know

Vomitting and weight loss are two very prevalent clinical signs of bowel obstruction in dogs. If your dog cannot stop vomiting, this is likely one of the most important signs of intestinal blockage.

What is a Bowel Obstruction?

A bowel obstruction happens when the stomach or intestines are blocked, partially or completely. Part of why it's such a large concern is food and water can't pass through their digestive system. The blockage could also increase the absorption of toxins and decrease blood flow to areas of the body.

If your dog swallows any foreign object - even small objects like sand - it might get stuck. Also, the object could potentially cut through the lining of the stomach or intestines, which is known as a perforation. Combined, these effects could be fatal.

Fast Fact

Bloat and bowel obstructions are two completely separate medical problems. Bloat occurs when the stomach swells up with gas or air and then twists.

Causes of Intestinal Blockage

The most common cause of a blockage is your dog eating something that isn't food. Even a piece of their favorite rubber toy or bits of wood they chew on can create a blockage.

Secondary Causes

Although the most common cause is a foreign object, a mass or tumor could cause an intestinal blockage. Medical causes are more likely to be found in senior dogs or those with pre-existing conditions. For example, if your dog has cancer in their esophagus or abdomen, it could result in tumors throughout the body.

What to Do

If you saw your dog eat something that's a definite No-no, never attempt to remove it on your own. Instead, call your veterinarian immediately and get an emergency appointment. Your dog may have X-rays once they're there so the vet can take a look at what they have swallowed. They might also request an endoscopy, which is where a small tube with a camera at the end goes in to take a look at the foreign object.

Quick Tip

Never attempt to make your dog throw up without veterinary guidance. This could result in more damage.

Preventing Blockages

To avoid all of this happening in the first place, take preventative measures to make sure your dog doesn't swallow something they can't break down. The most effective way to prevent blockages is to make sure unsafe items aren't within reach.

You should also keep an eye on your dog when they're chewing on a toy or even a large treat. Grabbing a locking garbage can is also helpful, so your pooch can't sneak a snack from what they see as a buffet. Some dogs like to get into stuff, and it's your job to make sure they aren't chewing on and swallowing anything that might obstruct their digestive system.

Which Dogs are Most at Risk

Smaller dog breeds are more likely to get something stuck in their digestive tract, but don't count large dog breeds out. Dogs of any breed could develop an obstruction. Instead of focusing on individual breeds, it's more important to take a look at age. Puppies explore the world with their mouths and are more likely to eat something they shouldn't. Although they may not reach the garbage can, they can reach those leather shoes in the closet.

Keep an Eye on Your Dog

The most important take-away here is to supervise your dog when they're gnawing away at their favorite bone or throwing their play toy in the air. Unless you have a puppy, then they should be monitored at all times as they explore the world around them. You want them to explore, but you don't want them to explore the world by eating toys or chewing up your Louboutin heels.

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10 Signs of Intestinal Blockage in Dogs and What to Do