Stalled Digestion in Dogs

Aug 27, 2023

It’s one thing when your dog may be a bit stopped up with constipation, but it’s an entirely different thing if your best friend suffers from stalled digestion or an intestinal blockage. Those can be very serious and even deadly conditions, and you want to be on top of them as soon as you know there may be a problem.

Stalled Digestion vs. Intestinal Blockage in Dogs: Distinguishing the Differences

Both stalled digestion and intestinal blockage are terms that are often used interchangeably when it comes to talking about your dog’s digestive issues. They might sound similar and even share a few overlapping symptoms, but understanding the difference is important because misunderstanding what’s happening in your dog’s gut can lead to serious complications.

Stalled Digestion in Dogs

Stalled digestion is a large umbrella category of digestive issues where your dog’s natural digestive process is interrupted or delayed. To put it simply, somewhere along the process of moving food through the digestive tract, food and waste just slow down or stop. Referred to in initial stages as constipation, it can be the result of various factors, and it doesn’t necessarily involve a physical obstruction as in the case of intestinal blockage in dogs.

Causes behind stalled digestion or constipation:

  • Dietary Issues: Eating hard-to-digest foods, sudden dietary changes, or eating non-food items.
  • Medications: Some medicines can slow down the digestive process.
  • Infections: Bacterial or viral infections can interfere with regular digestion.
  • Aging: Older dogs might naturally experience slower digestive processes.


Intestinal Blockage in Dogs

Intestinal blockage, on the other hand, is a more specific condition. It involves a physical obstruction within the digestive tract that prevents food and waste from passing through. In many cases, it requires intestinal blockage surgery as it can lead to things like blood poisoning and bowel obstruction that prevents your dog’s organs from receiving blood and oxygen. It’s a serious condition that can affect not only their gastrointestinal tract but your dog’s abdomen in its entirety.

Depending on where the item gets stuck – the stomach, small intestine, or large intestine – it can obstruct the natural flow of food and fluids.

The immediate effects of this obstruction can include:

  1. Digestive Interruption: The digestive process gets disrupted because the blockage prevents ingested food and liquids from moving smoothly through the intestines.
  2. Reduced Blood Flow: As the foreign object exerts pressure on your dog’s intestinal wall, it can compromise blood flow to the affected area. This can cause that part of the intestine to become necrotic or die, a potentially life-threatening situation.
  3. Bacterial Overgrowth: The blocked area may become a breeding ground for bacteria, leading to infections and further complicating the situation.


  • Foreign Object: Common bowel obstructions are often the result of eating items like toys, bones, or other non-digestible objects. This can result in a partial or complete blockage of your dog’s abdomen, and can result in anything from an upset stomach to the need for abdominal surgery.
  • Swelling or Inflammation: Sometimes intestinal blockages happen due to conditions like tumors, polyps, or severe infections that can lead to swelling that blocks the tract.
  • Twisting or Intussusception: Situations where a portion of the intestine folds into another segment (intussusception) or twists upon itself can lead to blockages.


  • Persistent vomiting.
  • Complete loss of appetite.
  • Visible abdominal pain or swelling.
  • Constipation or complete inability to defecate.
  • In severe cases, signs of shock such as rapid heart rate and shallow breathing.

Monitoring and Treatment

Early detection is crucial for the successful treatment of intestinal blockages. Here’s how you can monitor and address the issue:

  1. Watch for Symptoms: Common signs include vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, lethargy, and diarrhea or constipation. If your dog shows any of these symptoms, especially after potentially ingesting a foreign object, seek veterinary care immediately.
  2. Diagnostic Tests: Veterinarians will typically start with a physical examination. X-rays or ultrasound are the primary diagnostic tools used to identify the location and nature of the blockage.
  3. Fluid Therapy: Since dehydration is a common side effect, intravenous fluid therapy is often the first line of treatment to rehydrate the dog and restore electrolyte balance.
  4. Endoscopy: In cases where the foreign object is still in the stomach or the beginning of the small intestine, an endoscope – a long, flexible tube with a camera – might be used to retrieve the object.
  5. Intestinal Blockage Surgery: If the object has moved deeper into the intestines or if it’s causing significant damage, surgery might be the only option. During the procedure, the veterinarian will remove the foreign object and, in severe cases, might have to remove a damaged section of the intestine. This is considered a major surgery, especially when it comes to puppies, who often are the guiltiest when it comes to eating foreign objects.
  6. Aftercare: Post-treatment, it’s essential to monitor your dog closely. Ensure they are eating and drinking normally and watch for any signs of complications. Depending on the treatment method, your vet may prescribe pain medications, antibiotics, or a special diet.

Key Differences in intestinal blockage and stalled digestion:

  1. Nature of the Problem: Stalled digestion is a functional issue where the digestive process is slowed or interrupted without a physical barrier or foreign object your dog ingested and can’t pass like in a situation with an intestinal blockage. This involves a tangible obstruction preventing the flow within the digestive tract and often results in dog intestinal blockage surgery if the dog can’t pass it on its own.
  2. Duration and Severity: Stalled digestion can be a more chronic, less acute problem, potentially lasting longer but often with milder symptoms. Sometimes it happens along with a condition like inflammatory bowel disease. Intestinal blockage, however, is typically an acute emergency that requires you to act quickly to diagnose and resolve.
  3. Treatment Approaches: Stalled digestion may be managed well with dietary or lifestyle changes, pre- and probiotics and other supplements to help your dog’s gut health be stronger, or supportive care. Intestinal blockage, especially if caused by foreign objects or severe inflammation, often requires surgical intervention.

What Causes Stalled Digestion in Dogs?

Various factors can contribute to stalled digestion. Common culprits include:

  • Dietary Indiscretions: Dogs don’t really pay attention to what they eat. Sometimes, they might consume food items that are hard to digest or even toxic, and it’s up to you to figure out what is going on in their gut.
  • Parasitic Infections: Worms and other parasites can affect the digestive tract, disrupting the process and resulting in constipation.
  • Medications: Some medications, especially if administered in incorrect dosages, can interfere with digestion. Post surgery pain medication can often lead to stalled digestion, which triggers a cycle of different problems.
  • Poor Gut Health: Your dog’s gut health is super important to their overall health, and certainly to their food digestion. If your dog doesn’t have good gut health, their nutrient absorption will not be optimal, and they won’t be as healthy as they can be. It’s important that their gut microflora can work in harmony to move food through the GI tract at just the right speed.

If it seems like your dog is dealing with some of the symptoms of stalled digestion, and the symptoms don’t seem to resolve on their own or with interventions for better gut health, you want to get veterinary care immediately. If your dog’s digestive tract is completely blocked, they may need emergency surgery and the only way you’ll know this is with a physical exam and an accurate diagnosis of the problem.

Best Practices for Good Digestive Health

At the heart of your dog’s healthy digestive system is a healthy gut environment. Your dog’s gut is a community of microorganisms. The goal is to have a plethora of beneficial bacteria that can aid digestion and keep their gut health in check. This is also the best way to help prevent stalled digestion and may boost immune health as well. There are many ways you can do this for your dog and they include focusing on the following:

  • Balanced Diet: Ensure your dog receives a balanced diet with the right mix of proteins, carbs, and fats.
  • Regular Exercise: Physical activity helps their digestion. Regular walks and play sessions can keep the digestive system active and healthy, and a great way for you to bond with your best friend too.
  • Hydration: We pet parents often overlook this but sufficient water intake is crucial for digestion. Dogs need even more water than humans do for the best nutrient absorption.
  • Routine Vet Checks: Regular vet consultations will ensure early detection of potential issues, allowing for timely intervention.
  • Focus on Gut Health: Prevention is always better than cure. Ensuring your dog has good gut health can be a significant step in preventing digestive issues, including stalled digestion.Bernie’s Perfect Poop combines premium ingredients to help your dog’s gut health be the best it can be.
    1. High-Quality Fiber: We use Miscanthus grass–a clean, eco-friendly fiber that aids in the movement of food through the digestive tract. This may help your dog have regular bowel movements and no stalled digestion.
    2. Prebiotics and Probiotics: These help in balancing the gut microbiome by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria (probiotics), which can aid digestion and prevent inflammation and infections.
    3. Digestive Enzymes: Digestive enzymes help break down food particles efficiently, ensuring optimal nutrient absorption as your dog’s food goes through the digestive tract.

Around here, we always say that healthy diets mean happier lives, but when it comes to stalled digestion or intestinal blockages, it’s especially true. The best way to keep your dog happy is to make sure their gut health is the best it can be, and our goal is to make that even easier (and more delicious!) for you and your dog.

4.4 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 16,055+ reviews

Sign up now to receive the latest updates via email.