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A dog intestinal blockage surgery is a procedure that can potentially turn out being a lifesaver considering the risks associated with blockages when left untreated.

 Knowing what happens during a dog's intestinal blockage surgery may be something that concerned dog owners may want to learn more about since they may not know what happens behind closed doors. 

In this article, veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec discusses intestinal blockages in dogs and walks us through the surgical procedure.

Intestinal Blockages in Dogs 

All dogs are naturally curious and most dogs are not very picky eaters. Their curiosity combined with their voracious eating habits can be a deadly combination. 

Rocks, toilet paper, sticks, shoes, clothes, garbage – dogs do not hesitate when it comes to tasting strange objects. Simply put, dogs have an appetite for life.

When a dog eats, it usually takes between 10 to 24 hours for the ingested something to pass the entire gastrointestinal tract. Nevertheless, some objects can take much longer…and when saying much longer I mean months!

Most ingested objects can be either dissolved in the gut or naturally expelled. Problems occur when the ingested object cannot be dissolved or it is too big to progress through the digestive system. 

In such cases, the object lodges, usually in the intestines, thus causing an intestinal obstruction.

Dogs with intestinal obstruction will show some or all of the following signs and symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal tenderness or pain, a bloated abdomen, excessive drooling, lack of appetite, decreased or absent water intake, straining when defecating, lethargy and behavioral changes such as biting, crying or growling when picked up.

Foods and Objects Known to Cause Blockages in Dogs 

The most commonly found foreign objects include: bones and rawhide, sticks, rubber balls, tennis/golf balls and marbles, buttons and beads, toys, strings, stones and pebbles, coins, peach pits, cloth, panty hose, socks and underwear, batteries, cat litter, magazines, tampons, rubber bands, dental floss and baby bottle nipples.

Even something as innocent as a corn cob, can wreck havoc in a dog's digestive system, leading to potentially dire consequences. 

To be honest, the list of things that can cause obstructions in dogs is endless. However, some objects are more dangerous than others. 

For example: bone splinters can easily tear or puncture the intestinal lining. Batteries, if pierced, can leach poisonous chemicals. 

Metal objects and dyes can be poisonous. Strings can wrap around the intestinal tissue, and tampons, cat litter and other water-absorbable objects, when in contact with the digestive system’s moisture, swell, thus causing even greater damage to the surrounding intestinal tissue.

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Here's what happens when dogs are operated for an intestinal blockage. 

What Happens During a Dog Intestinal Blockage Surgery?

Once at the vet’s office, the vet will perform a thorough physical examination. The vet will also consider the signs and symptoms reported as well as the ones observed during the examination.

However, x-rays of the dog's abdomen are the best way to determine whether there is a foreign body in the intestines. 

The vet will order several x-ray projections from different angles. Contrast x-ray images are imminent for determining the exact location of the foreign object within the intestines.

If a blockage is found, then the next step is to run some pre-anesthetic tests. Foreign body removal surgeries are invasive and require general anesthesia.

 To make sure the dog is healthy and capable of tolerating the anesthetic procedure it is usually advisable to perform some basic pre-anesthetic tests.

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These tests include: a complete blood count (CBC) – useful to rule out certain blood-related conditions, chemistry panel tests – to evaluate the functioning of the kidneys, liver and pancreas, electrolyte tests – to determine the patient’s hydration status and make sure there are no electrolyte imbalances.

So Exactly What happens during a dog intestinal blockage surgery?

1) The patient is anesthetized, properly positioned, shaved and the surgical site is cleaned and prepped for surgery

2) The abdomen is incised with a scalpel (laparotomy)

3) The object is located and the intestinal wall over the object is incised (enterotomy). Sometimes if the circumstances allow (the object is near the end of the colon and the object is not likely to damage the surrounding tissues), instead of incising the intestines, the foreign object can be gently squeezed down the intestines and then pulled out through the anus.

4) Once the foreign object is removed, the site is carefully examined for signs of trauma and potential complications. If trauma and complications are present, they are surgically repaired.

5) The incision line is sutured or stapled.

6) The patient is allowed to recover from the anesthesia in a calm and closely monitored environment.

What if Surgery is Not Performed? 

What are the complications if a dog intestinal blockage surgery is not performed? Foreign bodies in the intestines can cause a plethora of complications ranging from simple and transient nausea through dangerous internal injuries to life-threatening intestinal obstruction.

If the foreign object cannot be expelled naturally, a surgical procedure is more than necessary. If left untreated, the foreign object can cause injuries, illness, infection or toxicity.

In most cases, the benefits of the surgery clearly outweigh the cost and the risks. The most commonly observed risks are: anesthesia associated, procedure associated internal injuries and surgical site infections. 

Luckily, all risks can be mitigated with thorough pre-surgical examination, prompt treatment and proper post-surgical care.

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The recovery following a dog's intestinal blockage surgery can be complex

What's the Recovery of a Dog Intestinal Blockage Surgery Like?

The recovery following open surgery can be complex and may take up to several weeks. During the recovery period, the patient should rest and receive prescribed anti-pain and anti-infection medications.

Depending on the foreign object, its location and the damages it caused, the vet may have some specific recommendations (diet, activity) regarding the recovery period.

The ultimate goal is to accomplish complete healing. Usually a follow-up visit is scheduled two weeks after the surgery for sutures or staples removal and wound checking.

The prognosis for dogs with uncomplicated gastrointestinal blockage is very good.  In a previously normal and healthy dog, they usually start feeling better within a day or so after the surgery. Most cases go home the next day, especially if they are eating. Some require extended care, especially if complications arose.

Surgeons are trained on methods to mitigate complications as much as possible, but there is always a risk of infection or surgical dehiscence (re-opening of a surgically closed site, such as the hole made within the gut to remove the object). 

Generally speaking, the overall prognosis is based on several factors: the foreign object’s location, the obstruction’s duration, the foreign object’s size, shape and characteristics, the presence of complications and the dog’s overall health status prior to foreign object ingestion. 

The above stated factors are also important for determining the best treatment strategy.

Dog ACTH test costs

Dog intestinal blockage costs range between $500 and $2.500

What's the Cost of Surgery for a Dog Intestinal Blockage?

The cost of the surgery depends on where you live, the type of anesthesia used and the severity of the blockage as well as its associated complications. However, generally speaking, the price for a dog intestinal blockage surgery ranges between $500 and $2.500.

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