If you’ve ever seen your dog inhale a yummy snack without even chewing it, you know that dogs can be a little less than selective about what they put into their mouths. At best, this is goofy and endearing. At worst, you can end up with a dangerous and even fatal situation on your hands: dog intestinal blockage.
If you find yourself asking, “How do I know if my dog swallowed something?” or “What should I do if my dog ate hard plastic?” then you’ve come to the right place. Take a deep breath and read on: here’s what you need to know about intestinal blockage in dogs.
What Is Dog Intestinal Blockage?
Also known as bowel obstruction, intestinal blockage in dogs is a sad occurrence among our canine friends. It tends to be more common among younger dogs who are teething and a little more reckless about what they consume. To protect our pooches from this dangerous situation, let’s define dog intestinal blockage and look at some of the most common causes of it.
What’s Happening During Intestinal Blockage
If your dog eats something that can’t break down and it is too large to pass through their intestine whole, it can block the intestinal pathway. This means food can’t get through, and your dog can’t get nourishment. More seriously, your dog’s intestine will continue trying to squeeze this object through, which can stress the muscle and cause a rupture in the intestinal wall. This is obviously very dangerous because it can cause infection in the abdomen, which can be fatal.
What Causes Intestinal Blockage in Dogs
Dogs have been known to eat many items that can cause intestinal blockage. Some of the most common include:
- Ribbons or hair ties
- Paper clips
While all of these items are very dangerous for your dog to consume, some have special considerations. Metal objects like batteries or coins present a unique risk because of the chemical reaction when this material meets stomach acid. Strings, ribbons, long carpet fibers, and any form of a linear object also present the specific danger of “bunching up” the intestines. Linear objects can also slice through the intestines when this bunching happens. If you think your dog has consumed something made of metal or a linear item, you’ll need to make an urgent veterinary visit.
There are also natural causes of intestinal blockages, such as tumors, but these are most common in older dogs.
How Do I Know if My Dog Swallowed Something?
Sometimes, you might be suspicious that your pet has swallowed a foreign object, but you might not know for sure. If you have a dog that chews everything, it might be hard to tell. To address intestinal blockage in dogs, you have to know if something in the intestine might block it.
If you can’t tell from your dog’s surroundings that they definitely ate something, here are some signs to help you know if your dog swallowed something:
- Evidence in the mouth
Even if your dog doesn’t demonstrate any of these signs, they still might have swallowed something that could cause a dog’s intestinal blockage. Use your best judgment and err on the side of caution. It might be worth an ultrasound for your peace of mind.
Vomiting Can Be Both Bad and Good
If your dog begins to vomit, that means his body is likely rejecting something he consumed. This is a concerning sign, but it can also be a solution if the item was small enough for him to regurgitate. If your dog starts to vomit, he probably ate something he shouldn’t have. If you don’t see the foreign item you’re concerned about; it’s time to contact the veterinarian.
Look for Evidence
It might seem obvious, but people often forget to check their dog’s mouth when they are panicking that their pooch has swallowed something. Open your dog’s jaws and look around in their teeth and mouth. You might see evidence of the item you are concerned about, such as pieces of plastic between their teeth.
Watch for Signs of Pain
Monitor your pet for signs of pain. If your pet’s stomach is tender to the touch or they seem to be cramping, that’s a dangerous sign that they may have swallowed something. If they are in pain, their heart rate might also increase.
Lethargy or Disinterest in Food and Water
If your dog appears low-energy and sluggish, this is another dangerous sign they may have swallowed something foreign. If they are showing less interest in water and food, this should raise concern.
Diarrhea or Constipation
Both of these can be signs that something is not quite right in your dog’s gut. Obviously, constipation can be a serious sign of intestinal blockage. If you suspect your dog has swallowed something, and you find your pet has diarrhea or constipation, you should call your veterinarian.
Next Steps if Your Dog Swallowed Something Foreign
If you are confident your dog has swallowed something, especially if your dog ate hard plastic, here is what to expect and the next steps you should take.
Immediately: Call the Veterinary Clinic
As with any dog-related emergency, you should call your veterinarian immediately if you are concerned about dog intestinal blockage. Your veterinarian will offer advice on how to handle your unique situation depending on
- The item your dog swallowed
- The length of time that has passed since your dog ate the item
- Any symptoms your pet is showing
Your dog may pass the item without any trouble. Some things will be small enough (and smooth enough) to pass right through their intestines without a problem and end up whole in their stool. If you and your veterinarian agree that your dog will probably pass the item, you will need to examine their stool for a few days to look for the item and be sure they have passed it.
Dog Intestinal Blockage Timeline
The two-hour mark is significant when it comes to intestinal blockage in dogs because, at around two hours, the item has likely moved from your dog’s stomach into their intestinal tract. While there’s no perfect answer to how long a foreign object can stay in a dog’s stomach, it’s generally about two hours.
If it’s been less than two hours since your dog swallowed the item, your veterinarian might tell you to try and make your dog regurgitate the item. This is the only real dog intestinal blockage home remedy, and it should only be done if instructed by a veterinarian. Your veterinarian will also be able to guide you on how to make a dog throw up after swallowing a foreign object.
Depending on the type of item your dog consumed, your veterinarian will say whether it can be passed or not. If the plan lets your pet pass the item naturally, there will likely be instructions about diet – for example, feeding your pet a large meal of dry food to help buffer the item and pass it safely.
Follow Your Veterinarian’s Instructions Carefully
The importance of listening to the experts in a situation like this cannot be overstated. Your dog’s health and life are in your hands, and unless you have the training and experience of veterinary medicine, you should not listen to your instincts. If your veterinarian doesn’t instruct you to make your dog vomit, don’t do so.
Another Important Note: if you see a piece of a string or fiber protruding from your dog’s mouth or rectum, do not pull it. This can be so tempting, but it can worsen the damage.
What to Expect at the Vet
If it’s decided that your pet needs medical intervention, your veterinarian will likely take a few approaches in her exam. These might include an ultrasound to confirm the object’s location or an endoscopy through your pet’s throat to examine stomach contents. Sometimes, if the object is still in the stomach, your veterinarian might be able to retrieve it using an endoscope. If your veterinarian decides surgery is necessary to remove the object, there will be a discussion about dog intestinal surgery complications as well as clear instructions for post-surgical care and reintroducing a regular diet for your dog.
Avoid Dog Intestinal Blockages, Ensure Your Pooch Only Eats Food
The best way to handle dog intestinal blockage is to prevent it from ever happening by keeping foreign objects out of reach and teaching your dog to follow the “Leave It” command. Keep a close eye on your dog when they are chewing sticks, toys, or eating meat with bones in it. Ideally, by following these protocols, you’ll never have to frantically ask, “How do I know if my dog swallowed something?!”