OBJECTIVE To evaluate the feasibility of laparoscopy versus exploratory laparotomy for the diagnosis of specific lesions in dogs with suspected gastrointestinal obstruction. DESIGN Controlled trial. ANIMALS 16 client-owned dogs with physical and radiographic findings consistent with gastrointestinal obstruction. PROCEDURES Single-incision laparoscopy with intracorporeal and extracorporeal examination of the gastrointestinal tract was performed by 1 surgeon. Immediately afterward, exploratory laparotomy was performed by a second surgeon. Accessibility and gross appearance of organs, surgical diagnoses, incision lengths, procedure duration, and complications were compared between diagnostic techniques. RESULTS Mean (95% confidence interval) incision length was 4.9 cm (3.9 to 5.9 cm) for laparoscopy and 16.4 cm (14.0 to 18.7 cm) for exploratory laparotomy. Mean (95% confidence interval) procedure duration was 36.8 minutes (31.6 to 41.2 minutes) and 12.8 minutes (11.4 to 14.3 minutes), respectively. Diagnoses of the cause of obstruction were the same with both methods. In 13 dogs, the laparoscopic examination was successfully completed, and in the other 3, it was incomplete. In 4 dogs in which laparoscopy was successful, conversion to exploratory laparotomy or considerable extension of the laparoscopic incision would have been required to allow subsequent surgical treatment of identified lesions. No dogs developed major complications, and minor complication rates were similar between procedures. CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE Laparoscopy was feasible and clinically applicable in dogs with suspected gastrointestinal obstruction. Careful patient selection and liberal criteria for conversion to an open surgical approach are recommended when laparoscopy is considered for the diagnosis of gastrointestinal lesions in dogs.