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When Your Dog Needs Intestinal or Abdominal Surgery: Causes, Symptoms, and What to Expect

One of the potential risks that come with being a pet parent is having to face unforeseen circumstances, even with the most well-behaved and healthy pets. Of course, every pet parent wants to be as prepared as possible to act immediately when things go awry, and that includes a common problem among dogs: bowel obstruction. 


When your dog falls suddenly ill due to intestinal blockage, he or she will require immediate veterinary attention. At Cuyamaca Animal Hospital, we’ve seen a number of these cases in the Santee and San Diego communities, so we want to go over a fairly common surgical procedure with which you may not be as familiar. 


When addressed in the right timeline and with the right medical care, intestinal or abdominal surgery for dogs is nothing to fear. Today, we’ll go over how bowel obstruction occurs, other reasons for needing intestinal surgery, and what to expect. 




Canine Abdominal and Intestinal Surgery: The Causes

A common cause for concern in all dogs is bowel obstruction, which is when his stomach or intestines have been partially or completely blocked. Blockages cause a number of complications, including preventing food and water from passing through his GI tract and decreasing his blood flow. 

The most frequent kinds of bowel obstructions are foreign bodies. Every pup runs the risk of swallowing surprising items: toys, trash, socks, underwear, dish towels… the list goes on! String, yarn, and rope fibers are especially hazardous for dogs because they can cause intestinal twisting. With older dogs, other common bowel obstructions to look out for are masses or tumors. 

The second most common reason for needing intestinal surgery is abdominal bloat, which is typically seen in bigger dogs. For instance, 1/3rd of Great Danes will experience bloat and stomach twisting (gastric dilatation and volvulus) in their lifetime. That’s why many Great Dane owners will have their pups undergo a gastropexy when they go in for neutering. (A gastropexy is a medical term for stomach tacking: a procedure that attaches your dog’s stomach to his abdominal wall in order to prevent twisting.)


Canine Abdominal and Intestinal Surgery: The Symptoms

There are very serious consequences of missing the signs for bowel obstruction and abdominal twisting. When pets experience obstruction and are not treated quickly, fatality is typical within 3-7 days. 


Unfortunately, large & giant breed dogs, especially Great Danes, have a tendency to fall ill within hours of stomach twisting, with a mortality rate of 15%. These dogs should be rushed immediately to emergency clinics or general practices who are prepared for emergency surgery (like Cuyamaca Animal Hospital). 


Here are the signs and symptoms of bowel obstruction and abdominal twisting:

  • Dry heaving  

  • Diarrhea

  • Visible bloating

  • Decreased appetite and dehydration

  • Lethargy

  • Hunching, whining, or other signs of abdominal pain (praying position is the classic sign of pain in dogs)

  • Lethargy

If you catch these signs early and head to the vet in time for surgery, your pup will typically recover just fine. 



The Procedure and What to Expect

After the initial surgical preparation for your dog, your surgeon will make an incision along his abdomen. The gastrointestinal tract is exteriorized (exposed to the outside of his body) so that we can locate the mass or foreign body obstructing his bowels. Then another incision is made to remove it, called enterotomy or gastrotomy. 

In some cases, a piece of the bowel may need to be removed (resection and anastomosis) if there is too much damage caused by the obstruction or if the mass is too large. Sadly, rarely the stomach or bowels can’t be saved and euthanasia may be required. If not a severe case, these pets will still need to be hospitalized for 1-3 days. 

The most critical period for your dog is the first 72 hours after surgery. If the patient is doing well after 72 hours then they typically recover well, but there are still some potential complications:

  • Sepsis (blood poisoning)

  • Hypoalbuminemia (low protein count)

  • Dehiscence (Wound separation or opening) 

How Cuyamaca Animal Hospital Can Help

These kinds of accidents or sudden illnesses can occur at any time moment and will require emergency intervention in order to prevent the worst from happening. As a general veterinary practice, we’re proud to be one of the few who are prepared to handle even the most complex emergency surgeries.

More than that, we are so dedicated to pet wellness and recovery that it’s our mission to provide these complex surgeries at a fraction of the cost of other specialty hospitals in the San Diego, El Cajon, and Santee areas. We believe in accessible and affordable care for your pets—no pet or pet parent should miss out on the opportunity to have long-lasting, meaningful, and happy relationships with each other! 

Call us (619) 448-0707 if you see any of the signs or symptoms of abdominal pain in your pet so that we can act fast and provide the procedures he needs. We go all the way when it comes to your pet’s care: before, during, and well after to ensure a healthy and happy recovery.



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F: (619) 873-0288

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Santee, CA 92071

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