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Intestinal Blockage in Dogs: Vet-Reviewed Causes, Signs & Care


May 26, 2023
a border collie dog looking sick covered with blanket on couch


a border collie dog looking sick covered with blanket on couch
Dr. Lorna Whittemore Photo

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Intestinal blockage, or bowel obstruction, is a common issue that occurs in dogs. It occurs when a dog ingests a foreign object that prevents other solids and liquids from flowing through the intestinal tract. All dogs are at risk of intestinal blockage, and it can lead to serious or fatal consequences. So, it’s important for dog owners to be well-informed on this issue and how to get their dogs proper treatment. Here’s what you need to know about intestinal blockage and what you can do to protect your dog and help your dog if they experience it.


What Is Intestinal Blockage?

Intestinal blockage refers to any occurrences when a dog ingests a foreign object, and it disrupts and hinders the passage of other foods and liquids from passing through its gastrointestinal tract. These objects can either partially or completely block passage through the intestines. In rarer cases, dogs may experience intestinal blockages from large masses or tumors in the bowels.

The effects of intestinal blockage vary depending on the object, position and degree of obstruction. Along with blocking the flow of foods and liquids in the intestines, it can also hinder nutrient and water absorption. Larger indigestible objects can cause decreased blood flow. Jagged and rough objects can tear and cause damage to the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, which can lead to necrosis. Sometimes, dogs may swallow poison or other toxic items, which will then cause them to react to the toxins being released into their bodies. Long, fibrous items, like rope and string, can rearrange the intestines and cause them to bunch up together.

a dachshund dog looks sick lying on its owner
Image Credit: Leka Sergeeva, Shutterstock

What Are the Signs of Intestinal Blockage?

In many cases of intestinal blockage, dogs will require immediate treatment. So, it’s extremely helpful for dog owners to know the signs of this condition. Dogs will exhibit different signs depending on the type of item they swallow and where it gets stuck.

In general, you can expect to see the following signs:

  • Persistent vomiting
  • Appetite loss
  • Abdominal pain or tenderness
  • Bloating
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty defecating
  • Adopting a prayer position or becoming hunched up
  • Weight loss
  • Restlessness and whining

Your dog may have bloody stools if the object damages a part of the gastrointestinal tract. They may also show signs of poisoning if they swallow a toxic object. So, they may also have heart issues, difficulty breathing, and seizures.

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What Are the Causes of Intestinal Blockage?

Many different kinds of objects of all sizes and materials can cause intestinal blockages. While no dog is exempt from ever experiencing an intestinal blockage, it does happen more commonly with puppies because they’re in exploratory stages and are more likely to put anything in their mouths.

Smaller dogs are also at higher risk of intestinal blockages simply because they can experience blockages with smaller items. Dogs suffering from pica are another group of dogs at higher risk of intestinal blockages because they’re more likely to ingest rocks, twigs, and other indigestible objects.

Intestinal blockages can occur in any part of the digestive tract. Sometimes, objects can’t get past the stomach and remain stuck there. Other times, they’ll squeeze through the bowels until they hit a space where they get stuck.

It’s also important for dog owners to be mindful of bones and dog chews. Dogs must always be supervised when they’re chewing or gnawing on certain treats, like elk bones, rawhide, and bully sticks, because they can easily end up swallowing pieces. If your dog is a particularly strong chewer, you’ll want to keep an eye on them when they’re playing with toys. They can easily end up swallowing toy fibers, stuffing, plastic, and rubber parts, which can then cause intestinal blockage.

Your vet is sure to have interesting stories about objects they have removed from their patients. Golf balls, ornaments, underwear, jewelry and many more.

sick german shepherd dog lying on the floor
Image Credit: Taisya Korchak, Shutterstock

How Do I Care for a Dog with Intestinal Blockage?

In best-case scenarios, your dog will naturally pass an object causing partial and minor intestinal blockage. In most cases, you’ll have to take your dog to your veterinarian to remove the object. Veterinarians will conduct a physical exam and feel the dog’s abdomen for intestinal blockage. They may also collect bloodwork to see if the object is causing other health issues in your dog’s body. In many cases, your dog will require an ultrasound or x-ray. These diagnostic tests will help veterinarians determine the object that’s causing the blockage and find the location of the object. Some objects such as plastic don’t show up on x-ray and can be harder to diagnose.

Not all bowel obstructions require surgery for removal. In some cases, veterinarians can use an endoscope to locate and retrieve a foreign object. Veterinarians may also recommend waiting for the object to pass naturally. If a dog’s health is under immediate threat, they’ll require surgical removal of the object. Veterinarians will surgically remove objects by making an incision near the area of blockage and extracting the foreign object. The complexity of the surgery and recovery period will vary depending on the object and the location of the obstruction.

Dogs that undergo surgery usually enter a 72-hour observation period, which is when they’re most vulnerable during the recovery period. Veterinarians will be mindful of any potential complications, including peritonitis, sepsis, hypoalbuminemia, and dehiscence.

Dogs will require a lot of rest after surgery. They need time for their incision wound to heal, so they shouldn’t engage in too much physical activity because they can risk tearing the wound. Most dogs will also have to wear a cone to prevent licking the incision site.

You’ll have to feed your dog a bland diet and stay on top of preventing dehydration while your dog recovers. Your veterinarian will also prescribe pain medication for your dog. In some cases, your dog may experience nausea and vomiting. So, your veterinarian may include a prescription for nausea medication.

Make sure to keep your dog’s resting area clean and stay on top of keeping the incision area clean. Wounds can get infected by bacteria, and bacterial infections can greatly complicate the healing process. If you believe your dog’s wound has gotten infected, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian right away. Signs of wound infections include redness, pus, bleeding, swelling, and pain.

cocker spaniel dog vet
Image Credit: Goldfish Studio, Shutterstock

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Frequently Asked Questions

How long can dogs live with an intestinal blockage?

Time is of the essence when it comes to intestinal blockages. Dogs can die within 3 to 4 days if they have a complete intestinal blockage. However on occasion an object sits in the stomach for many months causing intermittent problems.

Is intestinal blockage preventable?

Intestinal blockages can be prevented with some safety measures. Make sure to always supervise your dog when they’re playing with their toys or chewing on dog chews. Keep small objects in unreachable places, and make sure to keep young puppies in puppy-proof areas. Stay alert on walks or when your dog is running around outdoors. They can easily find discarded food, like chicken bones, on sidewalks and quickly gobble them up.

Keep in mind that dogs of even the most vigilant dog owners can still end up with an intestinal blockage. Accidents happen, so it’s important to know the signs of this condition so that your dog can receive treatment as soon as possible. If you see your dog swallowing a foreign object then contact your veterinarian for advice straight away.

Does pet insurance cover intestinal blockage?

Yes, pet insurance companies do usually cover eating and swallowing foreign objects. Ingestion of foreign objects is covered under both accident-only and accident and illness pet insurance plans. Fortunately, accident-only plans are relatively cheap, and they’ll help pay for costs related to the ingestion of foreign objects, including diagnostic tests, surgeries, and medication for recovery. Check your policy details for any exclusions.



The degree of urgency of intestinal blockages depends on the type of object that’s swallowed and the location of the blockage. Because intestinal blockages can quickly lead to fatal consequences, it’s important to visit your veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital right away to diagnose and treat your dog. So, make sure to familiarize yourself with the signs of intestinal blockage, and don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian if you suspect your dog has swallowed a foreign object.

Featured Image Credit: Lindsay Helms, Shutterstock

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