Top Signs Of Bowel Obstruction In Dogs

bowel obstruction in dogs
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Bowel obstruction or dog intestinal blockage is a frightening problem. It could happen if your dog gulps her raw bones or gets into the garbage, counter-surfs or chews up her toys. A dog bowel obstruction can be a real emergency.

So let’s look at dog intestinal blockage symptoms, timeline and how to help your dog pass the obstruction.

What Are The Signs Of Blockage In Dogs?

It’s important you know how to recognize the signs of bowel obstruction in dogs. Your dog will be obviously unwell if she has a complete obstruction. Partial obstructions are often less obvious, with only low-grade symptoms. If your dog is showing any symptoms, consider whether she’s had access to bones, toys or other potential foreign bodies recently.

If your dog is clearly getting sicker, don’t hesitate to get to the vet. Obstructions may need urgent surgery to save her life. The take-home message is don’t sit on it. Some dogs may only show mild symptoms … but then slowly fade and get more and more listless.

These are some classic signs of intestinal blockage in dogs.

Loss Of Appetite

If your dog is off her food it could be an early or ongoing warning sign … especially if she’s normally a good eater!


Dogs vomit very easily, so you only need to get concerned if there’s repeated vomiting. If your dog vomits many times in a day, especially for more than a day or two (and if she has other symptoms) … then get to the vet. If there’s blood in the vomit, it’s more reason to worry.

RELATED: Reasons your dog might be vomiting …


Dogs with gastrointestinal obstruction often develop diarrhea. In some cases, this may have blood in it. Bloody diarrhea can indicate a more severe problem.

Acting Depressed Or “Flat”

Most dogs with a GI obstruction will progressively become depressed, flat, and less responsive to their owners, other dogs, or anything. Again … if your dog has any of the other symptoms and is fading like this, get her to the vet urgently.


With vomiting and diarrhea, your dog will be losing fluids. Also, intestinal tract damage and inflammation can cause even more fluid loss. If your dog has tacky, sticky gums when you run your finger in between her lips and the area above her top teeth, it usually means significant dehydration.

Abdominal Pain

Most dogs with a GI obstruction have severe abdominal pain as well as a lack of appetite. A classic sign of pain is the bowing down position. Your dog may not want to be touched on the tummy. Or she may groan and be tense and wide eyed when you touch her there.

Beware Of Bloat!

Depending on where the blockage is, your dog may develop a swollen or bloated stomach over time. Be aware of these clinical signs and never ignore your bump of trouble. If you think something isn’t right with your dog, you need to listen to that!

RELATED: What you need to know about bloat in dogs …

When Your Dog Needs To See A Vet

If your dog has these symptoms, she may have bloat or gastric dilation and volvulus (GDV) … get her to the vet or an emergency vet ASAP.

  • Sudden bloating
  • Showing distress and signs of pain 
  • Trying to vomit without producing anything
  • Rapidly getting worse

Bloat is a life or death emergency and needs immediate veterinary attention.

There are many reasons your dog may have a blockage … and some aren’t her fault. 

What Causes Dog Bowel Obstruction?

Bowel obstruction in dogs can be caused by internal problems such as:

  • A tumor growing large enough to block the flow-through
  • A stricture (abnormal narrowing) due to damage from ulceration
  • Adhesions or scar tissue from prior surgery
  • Severe inflammation of the GI tract causing swelling

Other causes of GI blockage, although not as common, are GI inflammation, twisting of the intestines and intestinal parasites.

A foreign body obstruction is more common cause of intestinal blockage. Your dog may have swallowed  …

  • Balls or toys
  • Clothing
  • String
  • Trash or foreign objects
  • Bones (especially cooked bones)
  • Sticks, rocks or stones
  • Seeds
  • Non-food objects that can’t be digested
  • Metal objects or coins
  • Strange objects
  • … or any number of things your dog may gulp down!

The amount of harm done will depend on:

  • The nature of the object
  • Size of the object
  • How long it’s been stuck in there
  • Where it gets stuck
  • Degree of obstruction – whether it’s a partial or complete blockage

Treating Intestinal Blockage

There can be several ways your vet will diagnose a blockage in your dog. When you get to the vet, the first thing they will want to do is to run some bloodwork to see if there are any other possible causes for the symptoms.

Then your vet will probably want to take some x-rays of the abdomen. X-rays are often diagnostic for GI obstructions. If plain x-rays are inconclusive and your dog isn’t too unwell, your vet may give a barium meal … then take a series of x-rays to see how far the digestive system moves the contrast. Abdominal ultrasound scans can be very useful in imaging foreign bodies, too.

When you’re wondering how to help a dog pass obstruction, it’s really helpful to know what he might have swallowed. Some foreign bodies will work their way through and out the other end in a bowel movement, but only if they’re fairly small and not too damaging to the tissues. Olive oil or other lubricants won’t really help. You’re better off feeding your dog a bulky meal to cushion stones or odd objects. That helps move them out without damaging the delicate lining of the intestines. Food also creates digestive juices that can soften wads of those nasty rawhide treats to help them pass more readily. 

Your vet can remove some foreign bodies in the stomach by endoscopy … which avoids surgery.

RELATED: Here’s why rawhide for dogs is dangerous …

When Your Dog Needs Abdominal or Intestinal Blockage Surgery

Unfortunately, treating intestinal blockage in dogs will often require surgery to resolve the problem. This could be the solution for a tumor, a restriction, or a foreign body.

If the foreign body is in the stomach, the surgery is relatively simple. If the blockage is in the intestines, sometimes it’s as simple as making an incision and popping out the object before stitching it all back up. Other times, if there’s severe damage … your vet may need to remove multiple sections of the intestines and stitch the healthy ends back together.

Your dog will probably need to stay in hospital on supportive care like intravenous fluid therapy … usually, until she starts eating and having bowel movements again. Then there will be a period of recovery when you get home. Most dogs recover well, but some dogs can have ongoing issues. You may want to give your dog a natural product to ease inflammation caused by the trauma.

If your dog needs surgery, the sooner the better. This is because the longer the blockage is there, the more the tissue and intestinal wall can be damaged, and the sicker your dog gets.

So there you have it. Try not to let your dog get hold of indigestible objects to eat! But be armed with this awareness, just in case.

Watch for these symptoms and don’t ever ignore your bump of trouble … then you’ll know your dog has an intestinal obstruction when you see it. If you think something isn’t right with your dog, you need to listen to that!


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