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OBSTRUCTIONS : Signs and Symptoms

Updated: Jul 12, 2019

We've been very blessed in this home to not have ever had a dog suffer from an obstruction, but sadly this is a very common health issue.

One incredible story I remember being shared by a reputable breeder friend of mine is of Jake the Doberman.

Jake had been purchased by his new owners as a puppy from the breeder and they had as is commonly the case with reputable breeders, a well established relationship. Over the course of the next two years, Jake had a variety of issues come up that the owners discussed with Katy (the breeder) as they occurred. None of Jake's medical issues were significant enough to concern the owners per se, but over the two years the breeder had been documenting them in her "Jake Journal".

Blaze playing with her favorite toy - "Cuz"

At around the two year old mark, Jake's owners woke up to find him lethargic, refusing to eat and his belly seemed "bigger then normal" and they called their breeder immediately. Katy recommended that he be taken to the vet as her first concern was "Bloat". Jake was seen by the vet, yes did have a lot of gas but all this was relieved and he was eventually sent home.

A few days later, the exact same thing happened again. Katy reviewed her "Jake Journal" and noticed a pattern that literally saved Jake's life :

One month Jake would vomit a few times, the next month he might suffer from diarrhea for a day or two, he had a two bouts of ear infections, this all spread over 20 months. Jake was taken to the vets on a few occasions and received treatment where required but overall was always diagnosed as being very healthy! He looked great, and most of the time was a very "busy" doberman! However, as Katy looked at his journal, she saw a pattern! Based on the notes she had on Jake she recommended immediate exploratory surgery. This seems "over the top", a reach, and possibly even extreme. Fortunately, due to the relationship the owners had with Katy, they took Jake in and demanded exploratory surgery. Please note, I have left ONE important note of the journal out to be revealed shortly!

When the vet opened Jake up, sure enough, they found a metal twist tie from a garbage bag as well as a significant amount of bedding in his stomach. In Katy's "Jake Journal" she had documented that the owners had called her to tell her that their "little trouble maker" had tore a chunk of his puppy blanket. The only time that Jake had shredded his bedding was back when he was around 4 months old!

The vet with "all the pieces" of the puzzle came to the conclusion that Jake tore up the bedding at 4 months as was documented, ingested it and due to the size, it couldn't leave the stomach. It sat in his belly for a year and a half causing the occasional vomiting, causing the infections, causing the diarrhea - overall, affecting Jake's health. As for the twist tie, no one knew when this had occurred.

The symptoms for an obstruction in your dogs' upper digestive system are likely to be (but not limited to) :

1. Repeated retching to try and clear the object or blockage from their upper digestive tubes.

2. Drooling and lots of visible saliva due to the dog not being able to swallow the normal amount of saliva.

3. Unable to swallow food resulting in vomiting.

The symptoms for obstruction in the lower digestive system including the stomach and intestines may be (but not limited to) :

1. Larger objects will not be able to move further than the stomach causing infrequent bouts of vomiting that may not occur for up to 2 days at a time.

2. Smaller objects that move further than the stomach may cause very frequent and almost constant vomiting and retching to try and clear the object with no sign of diarrhea.

3. Loss of appetite and not wanting to eat or drink anything because all movement of the dogs waste is restricted or stopped completely.

4. Dog may try strenuous attempts at passing feces.

What Causes Obstructions in the Digestive System?

As the name might suggest, an obstruction in the digestive system is caused by an object blocking the continuous flow of food and waste through the dogs' body. This object or foreign body (indigestible object) will cause your dogs' defensive system to try and flush the blockage out via vomiting or via diarrhea.

These foreign bodies can be anything from a stone your dog has eaten on a walk to a piece of their favorite toy they have chewed off and swallowed by accident. It's not uncommon for this to happen to your dog as you might expect.

If the object your dog has swallowed is large enough and cannot pass through the stomach it will cause the foreign body to float around in the stomach and occasionally trying to pass through to the intestines. This then temporarily blocks the flow for other foods, causing your dog to vomit and dislodge the object where the cycle restarts.

In the case of a smaller object or the object passing through into the small intestines it will cause great discomfort for your dog as the waste is fully stopped in its travels and accumulates behind where it cannot travel any further. In this situation your dog will be in great discomfort and try to dislodge all waste by vomiting and via diarrhea (if obstruction is in small intestine) or by straining to pass feces with no vomiting (if obstruction is in large intestine).

What Your Vet May Say or Do :

1. Feel intestines for signs of a foreign object.

2. If the vet suspects a problem in the digestive system that is out of reach (stomach, start of small intestines) they will probably suggest an x-ray.

3. Some objects may not show up on x-rays so barium liquid (which will show up on x-rays) will be swallowed by the dog and then frequent x-rays will be taken to view the flow through the digestive system.

4. Other methods for looking for foreign bodies include using ultrasound or an endoscope which is a small camera passed into the stomach to look around for abnormalities.

5. In the event of an object being stuck in the digestive system, surgical operation may be needed to remove the offending item to prevent death by toxic shock.

Recommendations :

1. Keep a "Jake Journal" on your dog as it can provide to be a useful tool.

2. Share your stories with others so as they may recognize symptoms in their dogs.

3. Share this story to share the knowledge.

4. If you don't have a relationship with your breeder - create a "dog family" with whom you can share stories.

5. Research canine health!

Share the story - it could save a life!

Karen Grzenda

Get your copy of "Heart Dog - Gunner's Story" here :

See Gunner's story here :

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