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Gastrointestinal Obstruction In Dogs

Gastrointestinal Obstruction In Dogs

Gastrointestinal obstruction is a multifactorial condition that includes a spectrum of disorders/ diseases resulting in partial or complete blockage of the bowel that may also disturb enteric neuromuscular coordination.

The main cause of stomach/bowel obstruction is when a pet eats a non-food foreign object and it cannot pass through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Foreign objects can be non-digestible things (toys, socks, pantyhose, string) or slowly digested foods (bones). These items can become lodged inside the stomach, intestinal tract, esophagus, or under the tongue. Sometimes, foreign bodies can get lodged or stuck in several locations in the GI tract if they are composed of linear things such as fabric, carpet, or strings.

Gastrointestinal cancers could be another reason for GI obstruction. This can happen anywhere between the gastrointestinal tract i.e. stomach, esophagus, pancreas, biliary system, small intestine, large intestine, anus, and rectum. GI tumors may be either malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous). Malignant tumors Of the GI tract are aggressive, invasive, and prone to metastasize.

Meanwhile, Colonic pseudo-obstruction involves chronic inflammation of a dog's gastrointestinal tract distinguished by the presence of inflammatory cells (chronic enteropathies) which cannot be associated with other possible health conditions.

The continuing inflammation damages the intestinal tract and within the intestinal tract, and an allergic-type response occurs. This inflammation impairs the digestion process and absorption of nutrients which in turn leads to other health problems.

Gastrointestinal dysmotility can also be a reason for GI obstruction. This may be either primary (myopathic or neuropathic, that may be sporadic or hereditary) or secondary to drugs and a number of systemic illnesses.

Symptoms Of Gastrointestinal Obstruction

Symptoms of GI obstruction depend on the cause

GI obstruction due to foreign bodies

  • Chronic vomiting
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Hyporexia to anorexia
  • Abdominal pain
  • Subcutaneous edema
  • Pleural effusion
  • Ascites

GI obstruction due to tumor

This in turn depends on the type of GI tumor

For instance, Intestinal adenocarcinoma

  • Pain in the belly (abdomen)
  • Dark-colored stools (due to intestinal bleeding)
  • Loss of consciousness (syncope)
  • Lack of coordination
  • Low red blood cell counts (anemia)
  • Reduced ability or enthusiasm to exercise
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue/Seizures
  • Decrease in the reflex of appendages
  • Muscle twitching

Esophageal dysmotility

  • Trouble swallowing/ Exaggerated or frequent swallowing
  • Regurgitating food or water
  • Excessive drooling
  • Bad breath
  • Refusing to eat
  • Temporarily reduced appetite
  • Hacking sounds to try to clear the throat
  • Aspiration pneumonia- cough, fever, nasal discharge, lethargy, and poor appetite

Treatment Options For Gastrointestinal Obstruction

Endoscopy: Most of the foreign objects in the stomach can be removable with an endoscope. A long fiber-optic tube is inserted through the mouth, potentially allowing the vet to grasp the object and pulled through the grabbing instrument in the endoscope.

If the foreign material is lodged in the intestine, Endoscopy cannot be an appropriate treatment choice and only abdominal surgery can get rid of it. A small surgical opening is made in the stomach or intestine and the foreign material, as well as a damaged section of the GI tract, are removed.

Antibiotics: Metronidazole, Tylosin, or Oxytetracycline.

Anti-inflammatory: Prednisolone or prednisone, Cyclosporine, Chlorambucil, Budesonide, or Sulfasalazine.

Most of the obstructions due to GI cancers getting completely cured is really uncommon, but treatment can make your dog feel better with the least side effects. This is called disease remission as the cancer burden would be reduced by at least 50% and undetectable to any readily available screening test.

Surgical options, radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination of these modalities may be tried. Chemotherapy protocols vary depending on the type of cancer.

Home Remedies For Gastrointestinal Obstruction

  • When you believe that your pet has swallowed a foreign object, contact the vet immediately.
  • After GI cancer surgery, Dog activities should be restricted activity for about 2 weeks to allow recovery and incision healing.
  • A restrictive collar usage is recommended for 10-14 days. This prevents the natural tendency of dogs to lick and chew at a wound.
  • A diet of roughly 50% meat and 40–50% whole grains or non-starchy vegetables is optimal.
  • A homemade balanced diet is an alternative to commercial diets.
  • Fish oils or fish meals, or whole fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Prevention Of Gastrointestinal Obstruction

  • For their entire lives, dogs have no more than a toddler’s level of intellect. Some dogs have a stronger penchant to consume foreign objects.
  • Check your dog’s habits. Monitor the damage happening in toys. Keep little objects that could be swallowed out of their reach.
  • Try to find suitably sized chew toys with respect to all pets in your home.
  • Inspect all stuffed animals and chew toys you offer your dogs that may be eaten or chewed off.
  • Dispose of any smaller remnants. Never leave ribbons or strings within reach of your dogs.
  • Check your dog on a regular basis and consult your veterinarian immediately if you find any odd lumps or lesions.

Affected Breeds Of Gastrointestinal Obstruction

There is no breed restriction.

Most represented in Basenji, Border Collie, French Bulldog, German Shepherd, Irish Setter, Jack Russell Terrier, Norwegian Lundehund, Rottweiler, Springer Spaniel, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Large Dog Breeds, Young Dogs

Additional Facts For Gastrointestinal Obstruction

1. Causes:

Causes vary based on the type of GI obstruction

For instance, canine lymphoma:

  • Mutation in the bone marrow
  • Radiation or electromagnetic fields exposure or living near waste incinerators
  • Certain viral infections (Retroviruses)
  • Exposure to carcinogens or toxic chemicals (benzene and phenylbutazone)
  • Exposure to herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides

Esophageal dysmotility:

  • Neurological disorder
  • Weakened esophageal muscles
  • Benign or malignant strictures
  • Spasms of the esophagus
  • Neuromuscular disorder

GI foreign objects obstruction:

  • Bones
  • Pet toys
  • Paper, sticks, wicker
  • Food wrapper, tissues
  • String, yarn, and other craft supplies

2. Types:

Congenital GI obstruction:

Some breeds are predisposed to GI obstruction due to congenital anomalies in the GI tract.

Acquired GI obstruction:

This is generally caused due to a neuromuscular disease such as myasthenia gravis, inflammation of the GI tract, tumor, parasitic infections, a foreign body in the GI tract, or some form of toxicity.

3. Mortality:

A dog with complete gastrointestinal blockage or stomach obstruction could die within 3 - 5 days when rapid medical intervention is not provided. The mortality rate of benign types of intestinal obstruction is almost zero. Adenocarcinoma and lymphoma of the GI tract are highly aggressive and they should be diagnosed early as well as treated promptly. If it is not discovered in the early stages, then the mortality rate will be higher.

4. Diagnosis:

  • Abdominal radiograph
  • Computerized tomography
  • Gastrointestinal transit studies
  • Barium small bowel series
  • Gut biopsies: include mucosal biopsies of the stomach, duodenum, and/or ileal mucosa (ileostomy)
  • Antroduodenal manometry

5. Prognosis:

In most cases, Non-malignant Gastrointestinal obstructions are manageable with appropriate treatment. Complete recovery is possible and it is typically able to continue with daily activities. For the malignant gastrointestinal obstruction, the prognosis can differ based on the time of diagnosis and aggressiveness. Generally, when the obstruction due to cancer is detected early, before any metastasis, radiation and chemotherapy treatment may be effective. When there is the presence of significant metastasis, vets may recommend against conventional treatment and will treat your dog’s clinical signs to make them comfortable.

When To See A Vet

Contact your vet right away, if you notice any of the following:

  1. Chronic vomiting
  2. Chronic diarrhea
  3. Abdominal pain

Food Suggestions For Gastrointestinal Obstruction

  • Choose a wholesome food, minimally-processed, that is free of preservatives, chemicals, hormones, and other toxic additives.
  • Protein: High protein diet comprising 40% of the dog's calories. Fresh, lean protein (Lean ground beef, White-meat skinless chicken, or turkey).
  • Vitamin-rich fruits and veggies: legumes, such as lentils, peas or beans, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, and citruses, such as oranges and limes.
  • Consider a probiotic supplement.
  • Lean boiled meats.
  • Chicken baby food.
  • Cottage cheese and yogurt.
  • Fibre-rich foods: Apples, pears, oatmeal, and other foods.


The best way to avoid ingestion of gastric foreign bodies is to control access to swallowable objects. Permit your dog to only chew on toys that are non- swallowable.

The most favorable prognosis can be expected with early detection and appropriate treatment. This emphasizes the significance of a stomach examination as part of a routine physical examination in all dogs.

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