Emergency surgery in a dog
My family had a scary experience with one of our dogs a few years ago. One morning Ryan was fine; by the afternoon he was ill and in trouble. He refused to eat or drink, and the look in our eyes told us that something was very wrong. A visit to a veterinarian and an X-ray showed that he had swallowed a sock that blocked his intestines.
The vet suggested we wait a while to see if Ryan’s body could drive the sock out on its own. A second X-ray showed that the sock had moved only a short distance during the waiting period. A major operation was needed to remove the blockage from the bowel.
Fortunately, Ryan survived the operation and returned home. Although he initially needed careful and gentle care, he eventually recovered completely. This article is a tale of our experience with Ryan and his sock, a description of intestinal obstruction in dogs, and a precautionary story for pet owners.
Causes of intestinal blockage in dogs
Ryan is a Leonberger, a breed often called the gentle giant. He was five years old at the time of his bowel obstruction and had never been inclined to eat anything “illegal” (except for cat food). We have no idea why he suddenly decided to eat a sock. Some owners constantly struggle with their dog’s desire to eat unusual things and often find strange objects in their dog’s feces, but we haven’t had this problem with Ryan. Eating just one sock was enough to cause him serious problems.
Common causes of intestinal obstruction in dogs include the following elements:
- bones, raw hides and sticks
- rubber balls, golf balls, marbles and other small balls
- buttons and beads
- stones and pebbles
- peach pits
- tights and stockings
- batteries (quite a common cause, according to our emergency veterinarian)
- cat toilet (if eaten in large quantities)
There are other things that can be added to this list. For example, I have read about dogs that have eaten magazines, tampons, rubber bands, dental floss, baby bottle nipples, and corn cobs.
Some objects are more dangerous than others. Sharp-edged objects, such as bone chips, can tear the intestinal mucosa or the mucosa higher up in the digestive tract. Batteries can emit toxic chemicals if they are pierced with teeth. Metals and dyes can also be poisonous. The string can be wrapped around the intestinal tissue. The tampons will swell when in contact with moisture in the digestive tract, forming a larger blockage and so will the cat toilet.
Possible symptoms of intestinal obstruction
There are various symptoms that can occur when a dog’s bowels are blocked. He or she may:
- Stop eating
- stop drinking
- have a sore stomach, especially when touched (Use very light pressure if you try this.)
- to be swollen
- be lethargic
- whines or cries
- have problems with defecation or diarrhea
Each of the above symptoms can be caused by factors other than intestinal obstruction. For example, vomiting can be caused by intestinal obstruction or other conditions, as described in the video below. All symptoms on the list require a visit to a veterinarian if they do not disappear quickly or are severe.
Vomiting in dogs
Treatment of canine intestinal obstruction
Some dogs are able to throw obstacles, but we should never assume that this will happen. Even if no symptoms appear, if you suspect that your dog has swallowed something that could block his bowels, you should contact a veterinarian. You need to find out if your dog should visit the veterinary clinic immediately.
If a visit to the vet is not necessary right away, you need to know how long you can safely wait to see if your dog’s gut can push the object out. While you wait, examine your dog’s feces to see if the obstruction is cleared and watch your dog closely for symptoms that indicate an emergency. Your veterinarian can give you advice to help remove the blockage.
If the dog is dehydrated, he may not be able to wait for treatment. After Ryan’s first x-ray, his treatment included intravenous fluids and walks to try to get the sock to move. The second X-ray showed that surgery was needed.
Abdominal surgery in dogs
The surgeon who operated on Ryan said that his intestines were inflamed and close to rupture, so we are very pleased that we performed the operation when we did it. Ryan’s gut was folded into an accordion. The muscles in the bowel wall continue to contract when there is an obstacle, creating a wavy motion that normally pushes material through the bowel. This can lead to thickening of the intestinal wall to obstruction.
Abdominal surgery to remove a blockage is a basic operation. We were told that the outcome would probably be favorable, but that the operation involved risks. The surgeon said that sometimes, when the obstruction is near the end of the colon (the main part of the colon), he can open the abdomen, pull out the obstruction down the bowel, and then remove it through the anus without cutting the bowel open. Unfortunately, this could not be done with Ryan’s sock, as it was caught in his small intestine.
We live quite close to a veterinary clinic, which has long working hours and works seven days a week. We also live near two emergency pet clinics. The situation would be much more difficult – and probably more dangerous – if we lived in a rural area.
Never try to reach into the dog’s intestines on your own. Pulling an obstruction from the bowel through the anus can be dangerous and can injure the intestinal mucosa.
Recovery from surgery
When he returned home after the operation, Ryan was given an antibiotic, a painkiller, and a medicine to reduce the production of acid in his stomach. He receives two tablespoons of soft dog food several times a day according to the veterinarian’s instructions, as well as small amounts of water several times a day. We were allowed to take it for a short time; slow strap walks quite soon after surgery. We had an Elizabethan collar (or cone) to wear to keep it from nailing.
It was wonderful to see Ryan take an interest in the world around him and wag his tail very soon after returning home. One of the veterinarians who treated him said that the first hours and the first day or two after the operation were the most critical times, however, and that we could not really relax for at least five days after the operation.
It is important to watch for signs of fever or increasing pain during the dog’s recovery from bowel surgery. These symptoms may indicate that fluid is leaking from the bowel into the abdomen. The cavity is lined with a membrane called the peritoneum, which can become infected and inflamed by intestinal fluid. Inflammation of the peritoneum is called peritonitis and can be a very serious disorder.
Prevent intestinal blockage
Please don’t read this article about Ryan’s sock adventure and think, “I’m glad my dog doesn’t do things like that.” Remember, Ryan never did that until his emergency! Although most intestinal blockages occur in dogs who tend to eat dangerous objects, this is not always the case.
It is very important to keep a house containing a dog tidy and to store potentially dangerous objects, and to keep the chemicals closed or in a place inaccessible to them. This is important if you have children in the family. When you take off your socks, they should be placed in a drawer or in the washing machine – a step that we are very careful to follow now.
Toys must be too large to be swallowed by your dog. If you have cats in your family, as well as dogs, consider leaving cat toys after play to prevent swallowing toys that are often small enough to enter the dog’s esophagus. If your dog tends to throw dangerous objects such as rocks, it’s time for a hard workout to dissuade him from doing so.
Hendrix swallows a rock and carries a cone
Financial preparation for health problems with pets
Ryan was seen by our veterinarian, another veterinarian at the same clinic who has experience in abdominal surgery, and a veterinarian at an emergency clinic. His surgery and care were expensive, especially after the emergency clinic was involved.
The operation was performed in our veterinary clinic by an experienced surgeon. If the operation had been performed in the emergency clinic, it would have been even more expensive. Shortly after the operation, however, Ryan had to be moved on a stretcher to the emergency room. The surgeon worried that he was not recovering from the anesthesia quickly enough. The clinic gives him pain medication and monitors his condition throughout the night.
I have an emergency savings account and I also put money into a dog fund every month to pay for a vet, so I was able to pay for Ryan’s treatment. It took some time to recover from the cost. I have a job, so I can slowly save money. I would hate to be in a situation where I could not pay for the basic treatment that one of my pets needed. They are part of my family and I love them very much.
If you have a pet, it is important to save a small amount of money on a regular basis to pay for visits to the vet. Start as soon as the pet enters your family. A pet care plan can be helpful, but all plans need to be studied very carefully. One specific plan may not cover all the problems that a pet may face. In some treatments, the larger the pet, the higher the vet’s fees.
Preparedness and peace of mind
Hopefully, you will never need to receive emergency treatment for your pet, but it is important to be prepared in case this is necessary. Making finances will give you peace of mind because you will know that you can help your pet if needed. Knowing the route to the emergency clinics and the times when the clinics are open can also bring some peace of mind, because it means that medical help can be obtained quickly if necessary.
We all hope that our pets will never experience emergencies. They will never develop a major medical problem in their lifetime. If they still have a problem, our plans to help them can increase the chances of a happy outcome.