If you're wondering how long a dog can live with a bowel obstruction, most likely you are very worried about your canine companion.
Bowel obstruction in dogs is a common and potentially life-threatening situation that warrants immediate veterinary attention.
The presence of a foreign body stuck in the intestines triggers a cascading chain of events that may cause dogs to die.
In this article, we will discuss what happens when a dog ingests something that can potentially cause a blockage and how it impacts the dog. We will then go into detail on the blockage signs such as vomiting, abdominal pain, lethargy, and trouble defecating.
Finally, we will emphasize the fact that sometimes dogs may pass the oddest things, although there are great risks in not seeking vet care.
Defining Bowel Obstructions in Dogs
A bowel obstruction is a potentially life-threatening condition in which the dog's stomach or intestines are completely or partially blocked.
The blockage prevents both liquids and solids from traveling along the digestive tract.
The blockage also disrupts the normal blood flow and increases the chances of the intestines absorbing toxic content.
As a result, the area around the blockage suffers extreme deterioration – sometimes, the surrounding tissue may become necrotic and die.
Types of Bowl Obstructions in Dogs
There are two types of bowel obstruction in dogs – partial and complete. Let’s go through each separately:
Partial Bowel Obstruction. This is the milder form of obstruction.
Namely, the intestines are not completely blocked, and some liquids and gas can still make their way through.
Complete Bowel Obstruction. A complete obstruction is a more severe form as the intestines are completely blocked (no passage is possible).
Unless treated, a dog with complete bowel obstruction can die within 3 to 7 days.
Causes of Bowel Obstructions in Dogs
The most common cause of bowel obstruction in dogs is the foreign body. However, bowel blockages can also be triggered by other pathologies.
Let’s take a closer look at the different causes of bowel obstruction in dogs:
Dogs are notorious for their indiscriminate eating criteria.
In simple words, dogs are willing to eat just about anything. When a dog ingests a non-edible thing, it is at risk of developing bowel blockage.
Dogs can eat inedible and indigestible items such as bones, corn cobs, cloth, material, wallpaper, etc.
Sometimes, these objects will be passed without trouble, but other times they can cause an obstruction.
Linear Foreign Bodies
Ropes, strings, and carpet fiber can also find their way into the dog’s stomach and intestines.
A single linear body is unlikely to be hazardous, but if there are more, they can curl up and wreak havoc.
Dogs can also ingest certain items by accident. For example, they can swallow a dog toy or broken pieces of a chew toy while playing with it.
Unless dewormed regularly, dogs can have worms (intestinal parasites).
If present in large numbers, the worms can get tangled and eventually block the dog’s intestines. Worms are more common in young puppies.
Bowel obstruction can be the result of an intestinal mass. This is more common in older dogs of certain breeds. The intestinal masses can be either benign or cancerous.
Intussusception is a condition in which the intestines fold pretty much like a telescope.
Intussusception can be caused by foreign bodies, worms, infections, and dietary changes. It can also be a complication of a GI tract surgery.
Pyloric stenosis is the medical term indicating a narrowing of the GI tract where the stomach meets the first portion of the small intestine.
Dogs with pyloric stenosis are more likely to develop bowel obstruction. The stenosis occurs due to congenital defects and unknown reasons in older dogs.
Signs of Bowel Obstructions in Dogs
Bowel obstructions in dogs manifest with both general and specific GI tract-related signs and symptoms.
However, it is often hard for pet owners to spot red flags indicating bowel obstructions.
To make things a bit more straightforward, we will go through the telltale signs and symptoms of bowel obstruction in dogs.
Loss of Appetite
Whenever a dog is in distress (either physical or emotional), it experiences a decrease or even complete loss of appetite (anorexia).
This is best confirmed by offering the dog something it really enjoys eating.
In case you get the dog to eat something, it will throw it up. The concept is simple – the ingested food cannot pass through the blockage and returns.
Dogs with a bowel obstruction vomit even after drinking water.
Another sign of bowel obstruction in dogs is diarrhea. Changes in the poop consistency are common in dogs with gastrointestinal issues. The diarrhea is intense and lasts for several days.
Inability to Poop
Once diarrhea passes, a dog with bowel obstruction is likely to be unable to poop. You may notice the dog straining and attempting to poop, but without succeeding.
It is only logical that a dog with bowel obstructions will have a painful belly. The dog may practice weird body postures to relieve the pain.
Also, it can act aggressively when touched in the belly area.
With so many changes in the GI tract, the dog may develop bloating. Namely, when gas starts building up in the intestines with nowhere to go, it will dilate the dog's gut and cause bloating.
The presence of a foreign body causing obstruction is debilitating and will make the dog feel extra tired. The pain and dehydration add to the feeling of lethargy.
As mentioned, pain is an accompanying issue for dogs with bowel obstruction. As a result, the dog can be unusually vocal and cry, whine, or even bark in pain.
The overall distress and changes can push the dog into panic mode.
When anxious, dogs are likely to be restless – pace around, walk in circles, or simply act like they cannot find a comfortable place to sit.
As the condition progresses and the dog does not eat or drink, it will become dehydrated.
The dehydration adds to the overall problem and makes the dog even weaker and more debilitated.
Please notice: None of these symptoms are specific to bowel obstruction – they can occur with many other GI tract diseases and conditions.
Therefore, if you notice one or more of them in your dog, call the vet or visit the nearest emergency clinic.
Diagnosis of Bowel Obstruction in Dogs
If you admit your dog to the clinic under suspicion of bowel obstruction, the vet will start the diagnostic process immediately.
As in any other case, the vet will begin with a full physical examination.
Then, based on the initial findings, the veterinarian will recommend additional tests and procedures. Here is a short overview of what the vet is likely to order:
Blood Tests. Blood tests (complete blood counts and biochemistry profiles) are performed to check for infections and determine the dog's overall health. They also give insight into how the liver, pancreas, and kidneys are coping with the situation.
Abdominal X-Rays. The vet will give the dog a radiopaque substance (usually barium) to get a better visualization of the dog’s intestines.
With the barium swallowed, the vet will order x-rays at specific time intervals to check how the substance progresses and where it gets stuck (this confirms the diagnosis and determines the obstruction’s location).
In addition to these basic tests, the veterinarian may order an abdominal ultrasound or even an endoscopy.
MRIs and CT scans can be performed if suspecting a complication or if the dog is suffering from a co-existing condition.
Bowel Obstruction Treatment in Dogs
There are various treatment options for bowel obstruction in dogs.
Which approach is best depends on several factors, including the foreign body’s shape and size, the location of the blockage, and the dog’s age and overall health.
Here is a closer look at the different treatment options:
Supportive Care. Some dogs can eliminate the blockage on their own. Until this happens, they benefit from supportive care – symptom management and pain relief.
Endoscopic Retrieval. Based on the location of the foreign body, the vet may use an endoscope to remove it. The procedure is performed under anesthesia, but it is less invasive than traditional surgery.
Surgery. This is the most invasive treatment option as the procedure itself is complicated, and the dog needs to be hospitalized for several days following the procedure.
How Long Can a Dog Live With a Bowel Obstruction?
In the case of a complete obstruction, that is left untreated, a dog can die within 3 to 7 days.
Prognosis for Dogs With Bowel Obstructions
The prognosis for dogs with bowel obstruction depends on several factors as displayed below.
- The shape, size, and exact location of the foreign body
- The time the foreign body spent within the intestines
- The dog’s overall health prior to the bowel obstruction.
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
Bowel obstruction in dogs is not something pet owners can prevent 100 percent. However, there are several things they can do to decrease their dog’s risk of developing this life-threatening condition.
Here are some simple yet helpful tips for preventing bowel obstruction:
- Do not give your dog inedible things to play with
- Monitor your dog when playing with toys
- Check your dog’s toys for potential damage
- Practice regular vet check-ups and examinations.
As mentioned, not all bowel obstruction scenarios are preventable. If your dog has an intestinal blockage, you need to be able to provide it with the best possible care.
We understand that veterinary care can be costly. Therefore, it pays off to invest in a good pet insurance plan.