Dog Intestinal Blockage Surgery

Rhiannon Koehler, DVM
By Rhiannon Koehler, DVM on Apr. 30, 2024
A dog gets an ultrasound.

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Your dog’s intestines are a long tube that carries food and liquids from the stomach to their ultimate destination—the ground. Along the way, the intestines have important functions, such as continued digestion and absorption of nutrients and fluid.

A blockage along the intestines can quickly become life-threatening. Let’s learn about intestinal blockage surgery in dogs, so you’re prepared if your pup ever needs one.

What Is Dog Intestinal Blockage Surgery?

If your dog eats something they shouldn’t, this item could become stuck in their intestines, resulting in intestinal blockage. In some cases, your pet’s intestines can actually block themselves, such as if they become twisted.

During an intestinal blockage surgery, your pet will be given anesthesia and have a catheter placed in their vein to give fluids and pain medications.

The bottom of your dog’s abdomen will be shaved, and they’ll have a long incision (cut) on the midline of their underbelly. The veterinarian will search for the cause of the blockage.

Because dogs often enjoy eating inedible objects, this type of surgery is a relatively common procedure.

In some cases, the veterinarian can make an incision in the intestines (enterotomy) and remove the blockage. If the intestines around the blockage have begun to die, the veterinarian may have to remove part of the intestines and stitch the remaining ends together (resection and anastomosis).

Because dogs often enjoy eating inedible objects, this type of surgery is a relatively common procedure.

Anatomy of the Intestines in Dogs

The intestines start at the stomach. A dog has a small intestine and a large intestine.

The small intestine has three parts. The first part is called the duodenum. The middle part, which is the longest, is called the jejunum. The last part, which leads to the large intestine, is called the ileum. The small intestine does most of the digestion and absorption of nutrients in food.

The large intestine also has the important job of reabsorbing water. The large intestine is shorter than the small intestine. The end of the large intestine, which leads to the anus, is called the rectum.

The length of the intestines varies based on the dog’s size.

Why Would a Dog Need Intestinal Blockage Surgery?

The most common reason for a dog to need intestinal blockage surgery is because they ate a foreign object, such as a string, bone, toy, or sock.

Other reasons a dog could need intestinal blockage surgery include:

  • Intussusception (prolapse or slipping of intestines into themselves)

  • Torsion (twisting) of the intestines

  • Entrapment in a hernia

  • Blockage by large number of parasites (most common with roundworms in puppies)

  • Tumors

Benefits of Dog Intestinal Blockage Surgery

The main benefit of intestinal blockage surgery is that it’s often lifesaving. When a dog’s intestines are blocked, they can’t pass digested material through. This means they can’t absorb nutrients. These dogs are very commonly quite nauseated, leading to significant vomiting.

With large blockages or blockages that aren’t fixed, the blockage can put enough pressure on the intestines that they lose blood flow and start to die. The bowels can perforate (tear), leading to sepsis. The goal of intestinal blockage surgery is to avoid these life-threatening complications.

Effectiveness of Dog Intestinal Blockage Surgery

Most simple foreign body surgeries that need a single incision into the intestines are successful, with one study reporting over 94% success.

A dog who needs multiple cuts into their intestines or a part of their intestines removed will have a higher risk of dying during recovery compared to a dog who only needs one enterotomy.

Dogs who have consumed a linear foreign body like a string are more likely to have a negative outcome than a simple foreign body like a sock. This is because the intestines plicate (fold) around the string, and the string can eventually cut through the intestinal wall.

The main benefit of intestinal blockage surgery is that it’s often lifesaving. When a dog’s intestines are blocked, they can’t pass digested material through. This means they can’t absorb nutrients.

Other causes of intestinal blockage—such as a torsion of the intestines—may be more likely to have a negative outcome, particularly if there was complete rather than partial obstruction.

Cost of Dog Intestinal Blockage Surgery

The cost of dog intestinal blockage surgery can range from $2,000 to more than $10,000. A simple enterotomy will be on the lower end of this range while an intensive surgery with multiple enterotomies or several resections and anastomoses will be on the higher end.

Surgery done by a specialist or emergency veterinary clinic will usually cost more than surgery performed at a private practice.

Preparation for Dog Intestinal Blockage Surgery

Most dogs with a blockage will not want to eat, but your veterinarian should tell you to withhold food regardless. You’ll want to let your veterinarian know if your pet has eaten anything they shouldn’t have.

At the hospital, your veterinarian will image (X-ray and/or ultrasound) your pet to see if there is an intestinal blockage. Blood work may be performed to check your pet’s health before surgery. A catheter will be placed in the vein. After your pet is sedated, their lower abdomen will be shaved.

Complications of Dog Intestinal Blockage Surgery

One of the major complications of intestinal blockage surgery is dehiscence (breaking open) of intestinal incisions. If the incision comes open, ingested material will come out of the intestines into the abdomen, leading to sepsis. One study reported a 3.8% dehiscence rate for enterotomies and an 18.2% dehiscence rate for resection and anastomosis.

With any surgery that opens the intestines, sepsis is a risk because of the potential for spillage of intestinal contents into the abdomen. Surgeons usually test their incisions for leaking before closing the dog’s abdomen. It’s often flushed out with fluid to lessen the chance of contamination, and IV antibiotics are commonly given during surgery to fight infection.

Post-Op Care and Recovery for Dog Intestinal Blockage Surgery

After surgery, your veterinarian may recommend feeding wet food only for a certain number of days before allowing your pet to slowly return to their normal diet. If they’ve had significant vomiting and diarrhea, a prescription gastrointestinal diet may be recommended.

Pain medications such as buprenorphine, gabapentin, or tramadol are usually during the postoperative period. Veterinarians often avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like carprofen after gastrointestinal upset.

Anti-nausea medications such as maropitant (Cerenia®) may also be recommended.

The veterinarian may recommend a recovery cone or recovery suit to keep your pet from licking at their incision. Your pet should be activity restricted during the recovery period, meaning no running, jumping, or rough play.

The five days after surgery are the most important for making sure your pet continues to do well. Breaking open of the intestinal incision will usually happen by day five if it’s going to occur.

Contact your veterinarian if your pet appears to take a step backward, begins vomiting again, is acting lethargic, or you’re otherwise concerned.

Most incisions will be mostly healed by 10 to 14 days after surgery. If your pet has skin sutures (stitches) or staples, your veterinarian will let you know when they want to see your dog again to remove them.

Alternatives to Dog Intestinal Blockage Surgery

In some cases, the veterinarian may try to see if they can get the blockage to pass by giving fluids in a catheter to your pet to rehydrate them and help the object move along. They’re more likely to be willing to do this if they know the object eaten is small or if the blockage doesn’t seem complete.

Objects that are still within the stomach can sometimes be removed with an endoscope (camera down the esophagus) at a specialty center.

If dog intestinal blockage surgery is recommended, your veterinarian is concerned that the obstruction may become life-threatening. It’s best to pursue surgery while your dog is stable rather than waiting to see if their condition worsens.

Dog Intestinal Blockage Surgery FAQs

What is the survival rate for a dog with an intestinal obstruction?

The survival rate for dogs with intestinal obstructions from foreign bodies is reported to be 83–99%.

Other causes, such as masses or torsions, will have varying survival rates depending on the severity of the condition and how long the obstruction has been there.

Rhiannon Koehler, DVM


Rhiannon Koehler, DVM


Dr. Rhiannon Koehler is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Master of Public...

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