When Curiosity Turns Deadly: Understanding Gut Obstructions in Dogs

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Dogs are curious by nature. They love to investigate new sights, smells, and tastes. Unfortunately, this curiosity can get them into trouble.

Foreign Body Obstructions

Dogs are notorious for swallowing paper, tissues, articles of clothing, sticks, bones, food wrappers, rocks, and other foreign objects which is why, one of the more common and potentially life-threatening conditions seen at the SPCA’s Animal Hospital is foreign body obstruction

SPCA Head Veterinarian Rivona Ramnanan with fabric taken from the gut of a patient
A Make-up sponge removed from the gut of another patient
This boy chewed his bed, material and stuffing had to be surgically removed
Along with a large section of his intestine

Fortunately, these dogs have fully recovered, but untreated gut obstructions can be fatal. 

Here’s What You Should Look Out For
  1. Vomiting
  2. Diarrhoea
  3. Abdominal tenderness or pain
  4. Decreased appetite (know as anorexia)
  5. Straining to defecate or producing only small amounts of faeces
  6. Lethargy
  7. Changes in behaviour such as biting or growling when picked up or handled around the abdomen

Cape of Good Hope SPCA Head Veterinarian, Dr Rivona Ramnanan says “Time is important when dealing with a potential foreign body. An intestinal or stomach obstruction can compromise or cut off the blood supply to vital tissues. If the blood supply is interrupted, these tissues may become necrotic or die, and irreparable damage or shock may result”.


After obtaining a thorough medical history, your veterinarian will perform a careful physical examination. If a foreign body is suspected, abdominal radiographs (X-rays) will be performed. In addition, your veterinarian may recommend blood and urine tests to assess whether your dog’s health has been compromised by the obstruction, or to rule-out other causes of vomiting such as pancreatitis, gastroenteritis, infections, or hormonal diseases such as Addison’s disease.


If a foreign body obstruction is diagnosed or suspected, exploratory surgery is generally recommended during which any foreign body will be removed under general anesthesia. 


The prognosis is largely dependent on the location of the foreign body, the duration of the obstruction, what your pet ingested that resulted in the obstruction and the overall health of your pet. 

These two dogs were lucky, their owners sought help quickly and our passionate and dedicated veterinary team wasted no time in getting them the help they needed.  None of us can watch our pets all the time so if your pet seems unwell, play it safe and speak to your Vet!

SPCA Head Veterinarian Rivona Ramnanan with fabric taken from the gut of a patient

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