Sad Basset Hound waiting at the DoorEvery pet owner knows how much pets enjoy food. Unfortunately, sometimes this love of chewing and swallowing can get our pets into trouble, particularly when they ingest something inedible causing a GI obstruction.

In many cases, something a dog or cat ate will pass through the digestive tract with little to no trouble, but this is not always true. Any object can become lodged in a pet’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract (esophagus, stomach, or intestine), creating problems at any point along the way, including, the destruction of the area of the intestines where the foreign material is lodged.

An obstruction can also affect the GI tract by affecting the flow of fluid and food from the stomach to the small intestine, or by affecting the flow of fluid and food through the intestines to the bowel.

If left untreated, an obstruction of the GI tract can lead to fatal complications, including, perforation of the intestine or bowel. It is important to know how to protect your pet from eating something it shouldn’t, as well as how to recognize the symptoms of a GI obstruction, in the event your pet does get into this trouble.

Warning Signs

Give us a call or bring your pet in if you suspect he or she has swallowed something it shouldn’t have or you observe any of the following signs of GI blockage:

  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Straining to defecate
  • Lethargy
  • Distended abdomen
  • Dark, tar-like stool
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive drooling
  • Burping
  • Unwillingness to lie down
  • Hiding (especially cats)

If you observe an object protruding from your pet’s anus, do not attempt to pull it out, as this could do irreparable damage to your pet’s intestines and bowel. Contact us immediately.  In the event we are closed, contact the nearest pet ER.  A GI blockage should always be considered an emergency.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A thorough exam, x-rays and/or ultrasounds are generally ordered to diagnose a GI obstruction in pets. Bloodwork may also be needed to check for anemia or infection.  Depending on the item and its location, we may wait for it to pass, induce vomiting, or remove it surgically. Pets may also need to be treated for dehydration, vomiting, and secondary infection.

If treated promptly, most pets can recover without complications.  If not treated promptly, the blockage can be fatal in a relatively short period of time.  

Preventing GI Obstruction in Pets

The list of household objects retrieved from inside the digestive tract of pets each year is nothing short of mind-boggling. Among the most common items:

  • Socks
  • Towels
  • String
  • Dental floss
  • Yarn
  • Underwear
  • Hair ties & rubber bands
  • Bones
  • Fragments of rawhide chews
  • Fragments of chew toys & balls
  • Plush toys, toy stuffing & squeakers
  • Plastic toys (nerf darts & LEGOs, especially)
  • Wrapping paper & ribbon
  • Tinsel
  • Coins
  • Batteries
  • Sticks
  • Rocks
  • Mulch

While eating any of these items can pose big problems, dental floss and string add another complication, as they can get hooked on part of the intestine while traveling through the GI tract, causing the intestine to tear or shorten in an accordion-like fashion resulting in damage that may not be repairable.  Another reason not to pull on anything sticking out of your pet’s anus.

There are a variety of reasons why a pet may ingest something he or she shouldn’t, including, youth, curiosity, and boredom. Use the following tactics to protect your four-legged friend from the dire effects of an intestinal blockage:

  • Puppies and many adult dogs are notorious for chewing on and swallowing anything they can get their teeth on, so it’s important to keep all small, inedible objects off the floor and low-lying tables and shelves.  
  • Do not leave clothing, towels and throws where your pet can get to them.
  • Make sure the toys you provide your pet are too large to swallow and are not easily ripped apart.
  • ALWAYS supervise your pet when he or she is chewing on, or playing with, a dental treat, chew or toy of any kind.
  • Be careful to keep string, tinsel, dental floss, and ribbon up and away from your pet.
  • Keep trash containers closed and in a non-accessible location.
  • Avoid giving bones or brittle rawhide to your dog.
  • For your dog’s safety, make sure he or she has learned and will respond to the “drop it” or “leave it” command. If you are having difficulty with this or other aspects of obedience training, ask us about our Canine Academy training programs.

Your team at Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center welcomes your questions and concerns regarding GI obstruction in pets.