Intestinal obstruction in cats

When an intestinal obstruction occurs, the cat’s health will continue to decline until the condition is life-threatening. Early diagnosis and treatment are an important factor in the likelihood of a full recovery.


What is intestinal obstruction in cats?

Signs of intestinal obstruction should be taken seriously and veterinary treatment is strongly recommended. Intestinal obstruction is a common condition that occurs when the stomach or intestines are partially or completely blocked. The blockage can restrict the flow of nutrients and / or secretions within the stomach and intestinal area.

The condition is generally very painful and the presence of objects in the intestines can reduce blood flow , which can ultimately lead to tissue necrosis.

Symptoms of intestinal obstruction in cats

Cats that experience a bowel obstruction will generally feel unwell and show one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Unwillingness to eat
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Weightloss
  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Unwillingness to lie down
  • Depression
  • Shock

Causes of intestinal obstruction in cats

 Ingestion of foreign bodies is the leading cause of intestinal obstruction and tends to occur more frequently in younger cats as they tend to ingest inappropriate objects.

Other possible causes of the condition include:

  • Hairballs not ejected
  • Tumor
  • Inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract
  • Pyloric stenosis
  • Hernia
  • Intussusception (can be caused by intestinal parasites)
  • Intestinal torsion
  • Polyps
  • Overgrowth of stomach tissue

Diagnosis of intestinal obstruction in cats

After a complete review of the cat’s medical history, the vet will analyze the onset of symptoms, the cat’s eating habits, and whether it has access to objects such as string and sewing needles . If owners suspect that the cat may have ingested a particular object, the vet should be notified.

A physical examination will be completed and a standard set of laboratory tests will be ordered Often this will include a complete blood count (CBC), a chemical blood profile, a urinalysis, and an electrolyte panel. Abdominal palpation may indicate bloating or other intestinal irregularities.

Visual diagnostics, including X-rays or ultrasound images, may be ordered and an endoscopy will likely be performed. In addition to providing a visual image of the intestines, an endoscope can also be used to remove tissue samples for biopsy and / or to remove ingested foreign bodies.

Treatment of intestinal obstruction in cats

Intestinal obstruction in cats often requires hospitalization. The course of treatment will depend on the severity of the symptoms and the size, location, and source of the blockage.

1. Stabilization

If the affected cat experiences extreme dehydration or electrolyte imbalance, it will need to be stabilized before any further treatment can be given. Fluids and electrolytes will likely be given intravenously and, in some cases, plasma will be given.

2. Non-surgical treatment

When the blockage is caused by a hairball, the vet may choose to administer laxatives and monitor the cat for several days to see if the ball will pass before recommending surgery. This treatment option may also be recommended when the presence of a linear foreign body, such as a string or thread, is detected shortly after ingestion. Laxatives should only be provided under veterinary supervision, and owners should never attempt to remove protruding objects from a cat’s rectum.

In most cases, the vet will try to remove foreign objects with an endoscope. This is less invasive than surgery, but it is difficult to ensure that there are no residual elements in the intestinal tract. Endoscopes also cannot remove large objects like rocks.

3. Surgical removal

When attempts to remove the foreign body using an endoscope have not been successful, surgical removal under anesthesia is likely to be necessary. During this process, the vet will locate the obstruction and make a small incision in the stomach or intestine to remove it. Once the surgeon has confirmed that all foreign materials have been removed, the incisions will be closed with sutures.

Recovery from intestinal obstruction in cats

When veterinary care is provided in a timely manner, the prognosis for affected cats is generally positive as long as there are no surgical complications. After surgery, pain medication and antibiotics will be prescribed and the cat may need to stay in the hospital for several days. Once the cat can contain food and fluids, it can go home.

Then keep calm and provide a quiet place to recover from children and other pets. Care must be taken to prevent the cat from licking the sutures and an Elizabethan collar may be required .

Owners should closely monitor the cat for signs of dehydration or infection. Only the soft foods should be given for the first few days to avoid further irritation. The sutures will need to be removed 7-10 days after surgery, and follow-up appointments will be needed to ensure proper healing.

Precautions should be taken to prevent the cat from swallowing objects in the future. This can include covering trash cans and keeping dangerous objects like rope and yarn out of reach.



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