Bowel Obstructions

Bowel (or gastrointestinal) obstructions are one of the most common causes of vomiting and decreased appetite in dogs and cats. By far the frequent cause of this is foreign body ingestion. Dogs and cats love to chew on and eat everything they come in contact with. While their stomach is capable of digesting and breaking down a lot of items, certain materials cannot pass through and ultimate get stuck leading to an obstruction or blockage. Common foreign bodies include socks, underwear, t-shirts, rope toys, any type of string in cats, rocks, leashes, trash, etc. Once obstructed patients tend to vomit, especially right after eating, become lethargic or weak, not be interested in food or water and ultimately act like they feel bad. Typically the key diagnosis of a GI obstruction is made from x-rays. While most foreign material cannot be seen on an x-ray there are characteristic signs that make a veterinarian suspicious for a GI obstruction. More challenging cases can require a barium series or abdominal ultrasound to make a diagnosis. Some animals can naturally pass foreign material on their own but unfortunately the vast majority require either endoscopy (removal via a camera placed into the stomach) or surgical removal. GI obstructions caused by foreign body ingestion are normally considered emergencies as with time the intestine can be damaged and leak, leading to a life threatening condition (peritonitis). Surgery usually involves opening the stomach or a portion of the intestine to extract the foreign material, however in extreme cases can even involve removing a portion of damaged intestine. Most animals are usually discharged within a day or two following surgery and are back to normal in a short period of time. Unfortunately they do not usually learn any lesson and ‘repeat’ offenders are common. Ways to prevent foreign body ingestion is to choose toys carefully (look for toys that cannot be destroyed), avoid leaving laundry loose around the house and immediately remove anything you find your pet chewing on. While a GI obstruction caused by a foreign body is not the only reason dogs and cats vomit any time your pet is sick we recommend having them evaluated by a veterinarian. – Dr. Mike Schlicksup, Board Certified Surgeon

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