Dogs have a habit of exploring the world with their mouths and unfortunately, this often means eating things that are not meant to be eaten. While many items pass through a dog’s system without complications, others lodge in the intestinal tract. Intestinal blockages are common in dogs, however, they can be serious and even fatal if left untreated. Symptoms of a blockage may surface immediately, may take a few days or may come and go depending on the item ingested and the location of the blockage.
Typically, it takes between 10 and 24 hours for swallowed items to travel through the entire digestive tract. Given this, symptoms of an intestinal blockage generally occur within 24 hours of ingestion. Some factors can affect this time line. Objects stuck in the upper digestive tract, such as the throat, can cause choking and respiratory distress almost immediately. Often an item is able to travel through the upper section of the digestive tract only to lodge in the lower intestine, taking time for symptoms to surface. In cases of a partial blockage, symptoms may surface quickly, only to improve or come and go.
Symptoms associated with intestinal obstruction help to identify the location of the object. Intermittent vomiting or diarrhea can indicate a partial obstruction where food or water still has the ability to pass through the system. Abdominal pain and constant vomiting, especially after eating or drinking, may indicate a blockage in the upper section of the intestinal tract. If the obstruction is in the upper small bowel, projectile vomiting may occur. In cases where the item has lodged in the lower bowels, the vomit may be brown and smell like feces because the blockage is preventing bowel movements and items from passing through. Dogs have been known to swallow some incredible items, but some household items are red flags and should be avoided: cotton items such as socks or towels, stretchy things like rubber bands, hair toes and cords, rawhide and rocks, just to name a few.
If you know your dog swallowed an item he shouldn’t have, or if symptoms of a blockage occur, consult your veterinarian immediately. When a blockage is suspected, X-rays, ultrasounds and endoscopy tests can help locate and determine the item responsible. In cases of material ingestion, diagnosis becomes slightly more difficult because material does not show up on X-rays. In these cases, your veterinarian looks for abnormal gas patterns in the intestinal tract, signifying a potential blockage.
If a blockage produces symptoms, generally surgical intervention is necessary and often must be done immediately to avoid possible complications, such as dehydration, bowel perforation, death or necrosis of intestinal tissue due to a blocked blood supply and sepsis, or infection entering the blood stream. In cases where you know your dog ate something he shouldn’t have but is not displaying symptoms, your veterinarian may recommend the “wait and see” course of treatment. Passing the object may take months, but if the item does not cause a blockage, a slow travel through the system may be recommended.
- PetMD: Swallowed Objects in Dogs
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine: Objects Consumed By Foolish Pets Cause Problems
- VPI Pet Insurance: Foreign Body Ingestion Threatens Pets
- WebMD: Intestinal Obstruction and Gastrointestinal Foreign Bodies in Dogs
- PetMD: Intestinal Obstruction in Dogs
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