Intestinal blockages—often caused by your pup eating something they shouldn’t—are life-threatening emergencies. Many dogs require surgery to fix them. As of 2023, the cost of an intestinal blockage surgery can range from approximately $2,000 to $10,000.
Hopefully your dog will never develop intestinal blockage, but it’s important to be familiar with the signs and treatment options so you can be mentally (and financially) prepared.
- Intestinal blockage in dogs (aka bowel obstruction) can be a life threatening condition and occurs when a dog’s digestive tract is blocked, preventing food and fluids from passing through.
- One of the most common reasons dogs get intestinal blockage is from eating a foreign object—like a toy, or a sock. Make sure to keep these tempting “treats” out of reach, especially from puppies.
- If you suspect your dog is showing signs of intestinal blockage—including severe and repeated vomiting, or weakness and lethargy—consult with your vet right away.
- If your dog requires intestinal blockage surgery, the costs of the procedure can range from $2,000 to $10,000 or more.
- After your dog’s intestinal blockage surgery, it’s important to carefully follow your vet’s discharge instructions to help your pooch fully recover.
What are the main causes of intestinal blockage in dogs?
Many intestinal blockages in dogs are caused by a foreign object that a dog eats. Common items—like bones, toys, rocks, socks, sticks, balls, yarn, ribbon, and pantyhose—can’t pass through your dog’s intestines, and instead create an obstruction.
Intestinal blockages can also be formed by other issues, including:
- Intestinal tumors and masses
- Severe intestinal parasite infections
- Torsion (twisted intestines)
- Severe intestinal inflammation
- Scar tissue that causes narrowing in the intestines called strictures
- Scar tissue bands called adhesions
- Gastrointestinal perforations
The best way to help prevent your pooch from intestinal blockage is to keep tempting objects out of reach from your dog. (We all know how delicious a shoelace can look unattended).
Make sure your dog’s toys are durable, and size and age appropriate.
When your dog is outside, supervise them closely to prevent them from eating sticks or rocks. Monitor your dog indoors, too, especially when it comes to toys with squeakers or other tiny parts, bones, and other objects that your dog might be able to bite a piece off of.
You can also make some changes around your home to reduce the chance of your dog getting into trouble, including:
- Keep doors to bedrooms, bathrooms, closets, and kitchen cabinets securely closed
- Keep garbage secured out of your dog’s reach
- Set up pet gates to keep your dog out of areas that you don’t want them to be able to access
What are some signs that my dog might have intestinal blockage?
There are several intestinal blockage symptoms to keep an eye out for, since this condition is an emergency that requires immediate treatment:
- Repeated vomiting (puppies tend to throw up a lot, so before you rush them to the emergency vet, get the facts here)
- Loss of appetite
- Diarrhea or straining to poop
- Dehydration caused by the inability to keep water down
- Abdominal pain
If you notice that any of these symptoms is severe, it’s important to call your vet right away. If they’re not available, it might be time to head to your local veterinary hospital or emergency clinic. For some objects, the vet may be able to induce vomiting right away to prevent it from traveling any further. Timing is key.
Without urgent treatment, the intestines could rupture and your dog could experience severe pain and even life-threatening complications. Please check with your vet before trying any at-home “remedies”.
How do vets diagnose intestinal blockage in dogs?
Vet usually start the diagnosis with a physical exam and will also carefully feel your dog’s abdomen. They might also perform blood work to check your dog’s overall health and see if the blockage is affecting the liver or kidneys.
Next, your vet may order an ultrasound or x-ray to visualize the blockage and determine if it’s caused by an object your dog swallowed.
The results of these diagnostic tests will help your vet to determine how to best treat your dog.
There are three types of intestinal blockages, and treatment varies for each:
- Intraluminal obstructions: Caused by objects stuck within the intestine, like a foreign object that your dog has eaten
- Intramural obstructions: Caused by tumors or abscesses that are in the wall of the intestine
- Extramural obstructions: Caused by issues that affect the exterior wall of the intestine, like a hernia
Depending on the type and position of the blockage, your vet might give your dog IV fluids. Sometimes the fluids can help to loosen a blockage, so your dog may not need surgery. Your vet might also suggest monitoring your dog for a certain amount of time, seeing if they can pass the object on their own (if that’s the cause of the blockage).
If your vet feels that your dog’s life is in danger—or if they determine that the bowel obstruction is caused by something like scar tissue—your vet may recommend surgery to remove the blockage. The surgery is considered an emergency, and it may take place as soon as the same day.
How much does intestinal blockage surgery cost for a dog?
The average cost of intestinal blockage surgery can range from $2,000 to $10,000 or more. Many factors affect the cost of dog surgery, including the type of surgery your dog needs, the amount of damage that the blockage has caused, the amount of time your dog will need to be hospitalized. Your dog’s size may also affect the price.
The cost of intestinal blockage surgery can also depend on where you live, as well as whether your veterinary clinic is able to perform the surgery, if your vet refers you to a veterinary surgeon, or if you have to go to an emergency pet hospital.
Costs do tend to be lower at veterinary clinics, but waiting until your regular vet is available could cause your dog’s condition to worsen and even risk their life.
What’s included in the costs of a dog’s intestinal blockage surgery?
The costs of your dog’s veterinary care start with the cost of the appointment and diagnostics used to determine the type and location of the blockage.
Your vet might order some (or all) of the following tests when you bring your dog in:
- Blood work, which can cost roughly $200 to $300
- X-rays, which can range $75 to $600 or more
- An ultrasound, generally between $300 and $1,000
If your vet recommends surgery, they’ll start by giving your dog fluids to stabilize them before performing the procedure. Your dog’s surgery quote—which can range from $2,000 to $10,000 or more—will probably include fluids and hospitalization, both before and after the procedure.
The quote will also likely include anesthesia, pre-surgical bloodwork, the surgery itself, and medication, both for while your dog is at the vet and to send home with you.
How are intestinal blockages removed during surgery?
There are two types of surgeries used to remove a foreign object from your pup.
For this procedure, your dog will be put under general anesthesia. The vet will pass a tube with a light and camera on the end through your dog’s mouth and down into their stomach.
This procedure is less invasive than exploratory surgery, and during it your vet can retrieve small objects that are in your dog’s stomach or the first part of the intestine.
Exploratory laparotomy (Ex Lap)
If your dog has swallowed a larger object, or if the blockage is further down your dog’s intestines, your vet may perform an Ex Lap.
Your dog will be put under general anesthesia, and your vet will open the abdomen and examine the whole digestive tract. When your vet finds the blockage, they will open that area of the intestines and remove the blockage.
This is a more invasive procedure and requires a longer recovery time.
Does my dog need surgery for intestinal blockage, or are there alternative treatments?
In some cases, dogs may be able to pass an intestinal blockage on their own, as long as they receive supportive care, but it’s a good idea to check with your vet about how to help your pooch.
Your vet may suggest that you monitor your pooch at home for improvements, or to hospitalize them. During their hospital stay, your dog might receive IV fluids and have x-rays taken to see if the blockage is passing.
Whether your dog can pass the blockage will depend on the size of the intestinal obstruction, the type of foreign object, and your dog’s overall condition.
Emergency surgery is absolutely necessary if:
- Your dog is very sick
- The blockage is too large for your dog to pass on their own
- If the blockage is causing damage to the intestines
How can I help my dog fully recover after intestinal blockage surgery?
There are a number of things you can do to make your pet’s recovery easier following their procedure.
As with any surgery, there is a chance of potential complications after your dog’s intestinal blockage surgery. Some dogs may experience blood poisoning, a low protein count, and potential separation or opening of the wound.
After surgery, your dog will probably be hospitalized for one to two days, which allows your vet to monitor your dog for these complications. Once your dog starts eating again, they can usually go home.
You will need to carefully follow your vet’s discharge instructions to help your dog recover, which usually involves:
- Limiting your dog’s activity for 10 to 14 days after the surgery
- Monitoring your dog’s eating habits
- Watching for any vomiting
- Feeding a bland diet of dry food and avoiding feeding any treats for a few days.
- Keeping your dog hydrated
- Giving your pooch any medications that your vet has prescribed
If your dog had Ex Lap surgery, then they will need to wear an e-collar to keep them from chewing or licking the incision site. Monitor the site for any swelling, redness, itching, discharge, or pain.
Will pet insurance cover the costs of my dog’s intestinal blockage surgery?
Yes, a Lemonade pet health insurance policy can help to cover the costs of your dog’s intestinal blockage, minus your deductible and co-insurance.
Your policy can help to pay for the diagnostic tests your dog needs, including x-rays, ultrasounds, and lab work. It can also cover other costs associated with your dog’s intestinal blockage, including the procedure, hospitalization, and medications.
Keep in mind that Lemonade pet policies have a 14-day waiting period for illnesses, which begins on your policy’s start date.
If your dog has a history of intestinal issues—like scar tissue or hernias—that leads to intestinal blockage, it will be considered a pre-existing condition, and future blockages won’t be covered. That’s why it’s important to buy dog insurance before your dog needs it. At Lemonade, you can cover your pup from the time they’re two months old.
But if your dog has a habit of eating socks (and underwear, and bathing suits, etc) which leads to repeated intestinal blockages, it will be considered a recurring condition, and future blockages might not be covered. So it’s important to keep these tempting treats out of reach.
What dog breeds are more prone to intestinal blockage?
A 2002 study examined the breeds that were most prone to intestinal blockage caused by ingesting foreign bodies. If your pup is one of the following breeds, you might want to keep an extra careful eye on what they’re scarfing:
- Cocker Spaniel
The study also found that blockages resulted more often in dogs under the age of two. That makes sense: Puppies are at a higher risk of intestinal blockage than adult dogs because of how often they chew on and swallow foreign objects.
Training puppies early and carefully supervising them may help to reduce their chances of developing an intestinal blockage.
Before we go…
While you can take steps to minimize the chances of your dog ingesting a pesky piece of string or shard of bone, you can’t entirely rule out the chance of your dog developing an intestinal blockage.
If your dog ever does need surgery for a blockage, it’s important to be able to quickly get your dog that treatment. Being prepared with pet health insurance can help you to get your dog the care they need in this potentially life-threatening situation.
A few quick words, because we <3 our lawyers: This post is general in nature, and any statement in it doesn’t alter the terms, conditions, exclusions, or limitations of policies issued by Lemonade, which differ according to your state of residence. You’re encouraged to discuss your specific circumstances with your own professional advisors. The purpose of this post is merely to provide you with info and insights you can use to make such discussions more productive! Naturally, all comments by, or references to, third parties represent their own views, and Lemonade assumes no responsibility for them. Coverage may not be available in all states.