Gastrointestinal Obstructions… They Can Happen Before You Know It

It started with a little throw-up on Monday morning.  By Thursday afternoon, my 1-year-old Golden had a 10-inch incision in her abdomen.

Let me explain. Last Sunday in a moment of inattention, my mischievous little girl Shea ate a 2-inch hole in my living room carpet.

Although this was out of the ordinary, even for her, I wasn’t overly concerned.  She eats a lot of junk, i.e. sticks, tree pods, assorted leaves and other yard debris.  Since I’ve had her, she’s never gotten sick from these antics.

In fact, she’d never even thrown-up in the 10 months we’ve had her.  This seemed different.

By Monday, I knew something was up.  She got sick 4 or 5 times during the day.  But her typical voracious appetite continued, and she was her usual ebullient self.

A change in behavior and appetite are indicators of something serious.  And I saw none of that.

That night she got sick, and the next day she threw up after she ate.  Now her behavior started to change.  She seemed unhappy.  This was Tuesday.

We went to the vet. X-rays showed some gas in her stomach but nothing concerning.  The doc felt she irritated her stomach when she ate the carpet.  “Feed her chicken and rice and call if she doesn’t improve.”

She didn’t improve. By the next afternoon, she seemed worse.  She stopped eating, and she was lethargic… for her.

Back to the vet we went.  The vet would run a barium series, which would detect an obstruction if she had one.

A barium series is a series of x-rays taken over 4 to 8 hours while your dog drinks barium.  The barium appears white on the x-rays.  As it moves through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, the vet can see its progress.  If the barium is unable to pass, there’s an obstruction.

Shea wasn’t at the hospital 10 minutes when I got a call that the first x-ray looked a lot different from yesterday.  They hadn’t given her the barium yet, but it was clear there was an obstruction.  The x-ray showed a pronounced build-up of gasses in her GI tract.  She needed surgery.

When all was said and done, she had three obstructions.  The carpet wasn’t the only problem.  A tough string from the carpet backing connected two of the obstructions.  The lower obstruction was trying to pass but the string connecting the two obstructions held it in place.

Here are the contents of Shea’s stomach.   The problematic string is in the center of the photo.

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The vet told me that string could have perforated the intestines and potentially killed her. Thankfully we caught it in time. And she’s doing fine.

Let me share with you some important information about gastrointestinal obstructions.  An obstruction is an emergency that can lead to death if not handled quickly.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is a gastrointestinal obstruction?

A GI obstruction is a blockage in the stomach or intestines that prevents solids or liquids from passing through the GI tract.

It’s a fairly common condition because dogs don’t care what they eat.  Particularly young dogs that are at greatest risk.

Obstructions can happen to cats too.

What are the signs of an obstruction?

Vomiting

Lack of appetite

Weakness

Diarrhea

Weight loss

Dehydration

Bloating

Your dog may not suffer from all of these.  My dog didn’t have diarrhea.  But she also didn’t poop for 4 days.

What causes an obstruction?

Foreign objects like the carpeting Shea ate are not the cause of all obstructions.

A tumor, inflammation of the GI tract, a hernia, intussusception, pyloric stenosis and mesenteric torsion can all cause an obstruction.

Intussusception is when a section of the small intestine slides into the adjoining section. Intestinal parasites can cause intussusception.

Pyloric stenosis is when the opening between the stomach and small intestine narrows.

Mesenteric torsion is a twisting of the intestines around the connective membrane between the intestines and abdominal wall.

How is an obstruction diagnosed?

The vet diagnosed Shea’s obstruction by x-ray but he would have used a barium series if necessary.

Some vets will do an ultrasound or endoscopy.  Endoscopy is a tube inserted down your dog’s throat with a tiny camera at the end.  This allows your vet to see into the GI tract but doesn’t always enable the doc to identify multiple obstructions.

Are there treatment alternatives?

Not many. In the early stages, your vet may hydrate and take a wait and see approach.  Some obstructions pass on their own.

The risk is tissue damage and perforation.  We were fortunate Shea had neither.  But if she did, they might have needed to remove some of her intestines.  Or worse yet that string could have torn through her intestine causing the contents to leak out.  This can cause sepsis and ultimately death.

And because your vet may not know if the object is sharp or long, like Shea’s string, the risk is serious.

After surgery, your dog will need to stay inactive until your vet removes the staples, about 12 to 14 days. That will be harder on you than them if your dog is high-energy like my Shea.  After the first day, she was ready to go… despite the 50 or so staples in her stomach.

You also must monitor vomiting and hydration.  Shea did not continue to throw up once we got her home.  Had she, we would have had to return to the vet for IV hydration.

Your dog will be eating only soft bland food until those staples are out.  Nothing hard in the GI tract, including treats. That’s difficult.

How do you stop this from happening?

Good luck. That’s my great challenge with Shea.  Certainly, she will never be out of her crate without a watchful eye following her in the house until she’s done with this puppy stuff.  But she is a dog, and she needs freedom to run in the yard.

I will follow her around for a while telling her to “leave it” but realistically I know I have little control over what she ingests outside.

My vet told me he has rock-eating dogs that come back every few months for surgery.  That’s heartbreaking.

I think I’ll call my trainer once those staples come out.

Has your dog ever had an obstruction?  What did they eat?  Share your comments at the top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parasites and Puppies

There are few things in life more thrilling than bringing home a new puppy.  We plan.  We buy toys, treats, the perfect food and a crate.  We charge the battery on our phone to take endless photos.

But we don’t think about the parasites this little ball of fur might have feasting on it when it comes into our home.  We assume our new baby is perfect in every way… and healthy.

But more often than not a puppy will come home with a parasite.

A 2013 study of 56 healthy puppies done by Husse showed just how common parasites are. Two-thirds of the puppies tested positive for coccidiosis, half were positive for roundworm, and a third were positive for giardia.

These precious babies have undeveloped immune systems.  Their bodies can’t fight off a parasite like an adult dog can.  In fact, a recent puppy of mine came home with two parasites; giardia and fleas.

“What is a parasite?” you may be wondering.  It’s an organism that lives in or on another organism (the host), getting its nutrients from the host.  They can make your dog’s life miserable and some can even be deadly.  Not to mention contagious to people.

The best way to curtail your puppy’s suffering, and yours, is to be proactive in tackling these parasites.  Get your puppy checked out by your vet—be sure to line one of those up before puppy comes home—the first week they’re home.

Some parasites will cause symptoms right away.  Some will not.  Your vet will know what to test for even if your pup is showing no symptoms.

Here are the ones most likely to affect a puppy.  I won’t delve into great detail about the ones I’ve already written posts on but I’ll link to those posts for more info.

Intestinal worms

These are common in puppies.  Most professional breeders will de-worm the litter before they go home, as will rescue organizations.

Roundworm, tapeworm, hookworm and whipworm are the most common intestinal worms affecting puppies.  Mom’s pass the worms to their babies in utero or when nursing.

You can get these worms too.  And in the case of roundworm, they can be dangerous.  Especially in children who can go blind if infected by them.  Be sure you and your children wash your hands after playing with the puppy.

In dogs, intestinal worms may cause diarrhea, vomiting, pale gums, a swollen belly or a dry coat.

If your vet suspects worms, they’ll ask for a fecal sample.  Your vet will prescribe de-worming medications if the test comes back positive.

Heartworm

This is one of the most dangerous parasites your dog can contract.  Heartworm is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito with heartworm larvae in its blood.

Heartworm settles in the heart as opposed to the digestive tract.  This worm can cause heart failure and death.

The problem is that it takes 6 months from the time of infection for symptoms to show, at which point it’s usually too late to treat the condition.

Because heartworm is a silent killer initially, you want to prevent this parasite from the getgo.  Prevention should start when your pup is 8 weeks old.  Talk to your vet about the alternatives.

When symptoms begin to show, they’re serious.  Your dog may be lethargic, have a cough, difficulty breathing, a swollen belly, and changes in heart rhythm.  These may lead to collapse or death.

In mild-to-moderate cases, there is medication to kill heartworm but it can take 6 months or longer to be certain your puppy no longer has worms.

Single-cell protozoa

Last week’s post covered one of these nasty parasites, giardia.

Another common single-cell protozoa is coccidia.  It’s extremely contagious to other dogs and can cause severe illness.

A puppy will get coccidia from exposure to mom’s poop if she’s shedding infective cysts.  These cysts are like the cysts formed by giardia.

This parasite is one that primarily affects puppies 6 months or younger because the immune system of an older dog is able to fight off the effects.  As a puppy ages, it develops an immunity to coccidia.

An older dog may carry the parasite but won’t likely get sick.

A puppy with coccidiosis, the condition caused by coccidia, may have mild to severe bloody or mucousy diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and dehydration.  If not treated, a young pup can die.

The treatment for coccidiosis is 1 to 3 weeks on a sulfa drug, depending on the severity.  The meds don’t kill the organisms.  They inhibit their reproduction. As a result, the treatment can take a while to get rid of this parasite.  Over time, the puppy’s immune system develops which ultimately removes the organisms from the body.

Your vet may also suggest a highly digestible low residue food like Husse Valp to help manage symptoms.

To prevent coccidiosis, insect and rodent control on your property is critical.  Cockroaches and flies can carry coccidia from one place to another on their bodies.

Mice and other rodents can ingest coccidia.  If your dog kills and eats one of these critters with coccidia, they’ll get infected.

Fleas and ticks

Unlike the other parasites, these show on your dog’s skin.  Fleas live in their fur.  They bite their host and live off their blood.  This can be very uncomfortable for your puppy.

Many pups are allergic to flea saliva making the itching even more intense.  Excessive scratching can lead to raw, scabby and swollen skin.  And if the scratching continues too long… skin infections.  Fleas can also transmit tapeworm.

Ticks feed off the blood of dogs too, and depending how many ticks are on your dog, the blood loss can be severe.  Even resulting in anemia.  A severe tick infestation can make your puppy very sick.

Ticks also carry serious diseases like Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

If you see your puppy scratching a lot, pay attention.  You may see the fleas on their belly.  And you may feel a tick if you move your hands over your puppy’s body.  They often latch on between toes, on the ears, or in the armpits.

Many flea and tick treatments exist, from topical oils to chewable tablets.  Talk to your vet about the best treatment for your puppy.  And remember, you may need to treat your home too.

Skin mites

These too are external parasites that burrow into the skin.  But they aren’t visible to the naked eye.  They often occur in the ears.

Mites can cause skin irritation, rashes, red scaliness, hair loss, and what looks like dandruff.

The sarcoptes scabiei mite causes mange also known as canine scabies.  And mange is very contagious to other dogs and to humans.  In humans, you know this parasite as scabies.

Topical gels, benzoyl peroxide shampoo, and anti-parasitic applications are used in combination to treat mites.

Tell your vet if you notice anything unusual about your puppy.  A good vet will talk to you about these puppy parasites and check for any appearance of them at your first visit.

Parasites are not only unpleasant for your dog, they are often contagious to humans.  And a case of scabies sure isn’t the way you want to remember those early days with your puppy.  So be proactive.  Treat a problem.  And enjoy that fleeting puppyhood.

Have you had a puppy with a parasite?  Share your experience in the comment section above.