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.

IMG_3188

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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