What are Obstructions and Motility Issues in Dogs?
Bowel obstruction and motility issues in dogs can be a serious and sometimes deadly condition if left untreated. Knowing the signs of bowel obstruction or motility problems can alert you to when your dog needs immediate treatment and care.
Bowel obstruction refers to the blockage of any part of the digestive tract from nose to tail caused by either a foreign object, a growing structure such as a tumor, or even a food bolus stuck in the body. Bowel obstructions can be either partial or complete. Partial obstructions will allow some but not all materials to pass by, and may become completely obstructed if those passing materials become stuck to the main obstruction. A complete obstruction does not allow anything to pass by, stopping and backing up the digestive tract.
Motility issues refer to a functional problem in any part of the digestive tract that prevents objects from normally passing through. This can be due to a genetic disease, nerve damage or muscular damage preventing the intestines from making their normal peristaltic contractions that move objects through. With motility problems an obstruction can form, or food and other objects may just sit in the problem area, or be returned back through vomiting and regurgitation.
Signs of bowel obstruction and motility issues are similar and include nausea, drooling, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea. Complete obstructions and non-functioning motility may also show a complete stopping in bowel movements with an increase in vomiting and regurgitation. The vomit may contain undigested foods, or may even contain fecal matter if the obstruction is present in the lower intestines.
Can I prevent these issues?
Bowel obstructions caused by foreign objects may be the most preventable of all the problems listed above. Making sure to monitor what is going into your dog’s mouth can help prevent accidental ingestion of objects that could become lodged anywhere in the digestive tract. Bones are the most commonly eaten foreign objects, causing a choking, obstruction and even wound problem in the digestive tract as bones may splinter. Additional objects such as balls or articles of clothing are also likely to become ingested. Making sure these objects are kept out of reach can prevent a major obstruction event.
What should I do if I suspect these issues in my dog?
If your dog is showing signs of motility or obstruction issues, making an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible is the first step. Dogs can quickly become bloated or dehydrated from increases in vomiting, which can lead to additional complications. Your vet will likely examine your dog for signs of illness, and may recommend an X-ray or ultrasound if a foreign body or motility issue is suspected.
In the case of a foreign body, treatment may range from simple medication and IV fluid therapy to pass smaller objects, to complete surgical removal of the objects. Surgical removal usually has good results if the foreign body is found quickly and removed before problems or prolonged illness can occur. Your vet may also recommend hospitalization for a few days to monitor recovery and make sure the digestive tract returns to normal function.
In the case of motility issues, treatment depends on the location of the problem. Issues with the esophagus, often called mega-esophagus can usually be treated by training dogs to eat in a sitting upright position with a special feeding table. This allows the food to pass down with gravity assisting, overcoming the motility problem. For issues with motility in the stomach or intestines, medications such as prokinetics designed to stimulate the bowels to contract and move food through may help. Additional medications such as stool softeners or natural supplements or diet changes to change stool consistency may help food pass through more easily.
Natural Remedies For Treating Motility Issues
Depending on the cause, motility issues may be harder to treat with natural remedies. However, herbal supplements such as peppermint or ginger may help to relieve digestive upset caused by poor motility. Natural laxative supplements or even changes in the diet such as increase or decreasing fiber content may help without additional medication. For megaesophagus, creating a feeding station usually allows dogs to have normal digestion without medications. In the case of bowel obstruction, a veterinary professional should address the situation prior to attempting to pass the object with natural remedies.