This content was reviewed by veterinarian Dr. JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM.
When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a commission. Here’s how it works.
Is your pup a big-time chewer? If so, there is a chance your dog may experience intestinal blockage at some point in their lifetime. All it takes is your dog ingesting one small toy or sock to cause a serious blockage in his gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which can lead to major surgery and astronomical medical bills.
Gastrointestinal (GI) obstructions are common in dogs because they love to chew on foreign objects and inevitably end up swallowing something they shouldn’t. Puppies (aka chewing machines) are particularly prone to this condition.
Although not as common, other GI blockage causes include tumors, GI inflammation, intestinal parasites, or twisting of the intestines.
How do you know if your dog has an intestinal blockage? Dog intestinal blockage symptoms could be easy to brush off as merely an upset stomach unless you witnessed your dog swallow a foreign object.
If you think your dog ingested something suspicious or they are exhibiting the symptoms listed below, call your veterinarian as soon as possible.
- Loss of appetite
- Straining or unable to poop
- Painful abdomen to the touch
- Aggressive behavior when the abdomen is touched
If you saw your dog eat a foreign object, you might be wondering how you can help your dog pass that obstruction. The short answer is to take your dog to your vet. If you notice any of the symptoms above, it’s important to visit your veterinarian immediately.
Your vet will first perform a physical exam to get an overall look at your dog, paying special attention to the abdomen. They may also perform blood work to determine if the blockage is affecting your dog’s overall health.
From there, your vet will perform some imaging tests to try to see the foreign object. One such test is an endoscopy, a procedure that inserts a small tube with a tiny attached camera through your dog’s throat and into the stomach. Your dog would be sedated for this procedure.
In some cases, a vet can retrieve the foreign object during the endoscopy. If not, your vet likely will perform an ultrasound or take x-rays to determine where (and what) the obstruction is.
If your dog is dehydrated, your vet will give them IV fluids. Beyond rehydrating, fluids can also encourage the GI tract to push the blockage down through the intestines and out of your dog’s body.
Some foreign objects, given time, can pass on their own. However, when it comes to a timeline for intestinal blockage in dogs, time is absolutely of the essence. If the object does not pass on its own and your dog has the symptoms listed above, your dog will need to be treated as soon as possible.
If your vet determines that the foreign object presents an immediate danger, emergency surgery is ordered.
Dog intestinal blockage surgery is a major procedure, requiring your dog to be anesthetized. After the surgery, your dog will stay at the hospital and recover for several days.
For the intestinal surgery, your vet will make an incision into your dog’s abdomen near the blockage site and carefully extract the object. Additionally, they may need to repair any damage to the stomach or intestinal wall resulting from the obstruction.
Your dog’s survival after surgery to remove an intestinal blockage depends on a few things:
- Size, shape, and location of the foreign object
- How long the foreign object has been stuck in the intestines
- Your dog’s health before the surgery
The physical exam and diagnostic tests that your vet performs before surgery will help them determine how well they think your dog will do after surgery. Of course, the sooner the surgery is performed, the better.
The following video gives you comprehensive information on what to expect from treatment and surgery. Use viewer discretion, as some images are graphic.
After surgery and hospitalization, monitor your dog and keep their activity level very low. Stick to short walks for at least a week — you don’t want their sutures to tear. Your dog will also need to wear the dreaded cone to keep them from chewing on the healing incision.
It’s important to feed your dog small amounts of bland food before gradually transitioning to his previous diet during this time. Also, make sure they are getting enough fluids to prevent dehydration.
Major surgery is painful. Your dog won’t be in pain during the surgery, of course, but will probably feel some pain afterward. Your vet will prescribe post-surgery pain medication for your dog. Follow the prescription instructions carefully to keep your dog’s pain under control at home.
Anesthesia can make some dogs feel nauseated after surgery and it’s actually common for dogs to vomit afterwards. So, your vet may also prescribe medications to relieve your dog’s nausea and vomiting, if needed.
The cost to treat intestinal obstruction ranges anywhere from $800 to $7,000. The price depends on how extensive the damage is, the length of the hospital stay, the types of medications required, and other factors (like where you live).
Getting pet health insurance when your dog is young is the best way to plan for health problems throughout their life. Signing your young dog up now also reduces the overall cost of their emergency care in the long run (because there are fewer pre-existing conditions, if any).
Having active pet insurance before a diagnosis can help minimize unexpected expenses for emergency surgery and a host of other pet health expenses. And a policy may not be as expensive as you think. However, you must have a current pet insurance policy prior to diagnosis and be outside any waiting periods for the condition to be covered.
Reputable pet insurance companies can help offset your pet’s unexpected health expenses.
Our number two pick for best pet insurance, Healthy Paws, has this customer’s testimonial about her experience with her lab, Jude, who required emergency gastrointestinal blockage surgery after swallowing the squeaker from its squeaky toy.
Pet Parent: Jennifer
Pet: Jude, 18-month-old Lab
Diagnosis & Treatment: Major Tummy Surgery/Foreign Body Obstruction Surgery
Claim Cost: $4,734
Healthy Paws Pet Insurance Reimbursement: $4,201
Jennifer’s Out-of-Pocket Expense: $533
“We had three labs prior to our current guy Jude and didn’t have pet insurance for any of them. After our yellow lab had three knee surgeries in the last two years and crossed the rainbow bridge in June 2017, we’d spent close to $15,000 out of pocket to care for him. So, we enrolled our new puppy, Jude, in Healthy Paws Pet Insurance immediately — we knew we couldn’t afford those costs again.”
Shortly after Jen adopted Jude, they started showering him with toys. “We bought him a squeaker toy, and he ate the squeaker right out of it! He wasn’t trained very well with the ‘leave it’ and ‘drop it’ commands,” Jen says.
To avoid a similar situation in the future, she cut open the other toys to remove the squeaker, but Jude stealthily grabbed the other squeaker: “He took [the squeaker] right out of my hand! I still had my fingers on it, in his mouth, and he still just sucked it down! It was like a vacuum!”
“A week later he started vomiting and having diarrhea,” Jen continues. After a trip to the emergency vet, x-rays and ultrasounds showed not just a squeaker, but also fabric.
“The surgeon called, and there were two pairs of underwear — one of mine and one of my husband’s — and the two squeakers! We had no idea about the underwear or when he got into them!”
Jude’s intestinal blockage and emergency surgery totaled $4,734, of which Healthy Paws reimbursed $4,201 (figures correspond to pet parent’s 90% reimbursement level with a $250 annual deductible plan). Jude has since recuperated and is back to chewing — not swallowing! — many of his fun, furry toys.
If you’ve never had pet insurance before, there’s a lot to learn. But never fear, our experts are here with their easy-to-understand pet insurance 101 guide. It includes everything from insurance terminology and coverage details to cost comparisons.
Then when you’re ready, we’ve awarded winners in various categories based on value (cost, healthy pet discounts, households with more than one pet, etc.), special needs (puppies, older dogs, dental coverage, wellness coverage, etc.) and more in our best pet insurance article.Tagged With: Cost, Gastrointestinal, Reviewed By Dr. Pendergrass, DVM