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What is Intestinal Obstruction?

When an intestinal obstruction has occurred, the cat’s health will continue to decline until the condition becomes life-threatening. Early diagnosis and treatment is a leading factor in the likelihood of a full recovery. Signs of intestinal obstruction should be taken seriously and prompt 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 may 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 may ultimately lead to tissue necrosis.

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Intestinal Obstruction Average Cost

From 484 quotes ranging from $500 - $2,500

Average Cost

$1,200

Symptoms of Intestinal Obstruction in Cats

Cats who are experiencing an intestinal obstruction generally will feel unwell and will display one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Unwillingness to eat
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Weight Loss
  • Dehydration
  • Subnormal body temperature or a fever
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Crying or whimpering
  • Unwillingness to lie down
  • Depression
  • Shock
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Causes of Intestinal Obstruction in Cats

Ingestion of foreign bodies is the primary cause of intestinal obstruction, and it tends to occur more commonly in younger cats as they tend to be more likely to ingest inappropriate objects. Other possible causes of the condition include:

  • Un-expelled hairballs
  • A tumor
  • Severe inflammation of gastrointestinal tract
  • Pyloric stenosis
  • Hernia
  • Intussusception (may be caused by intestinal parasites)
  • Intestinal twisting
  • Polyps
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Diagnosis of Intestinal Obstruction in Cats

After a full review of the cat’s medical history, the veterinarian will discuss 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 exam will be completed and a standard set of lab tests ordered. This will often include a complete blood count (CBC), blood chemical profile, urinalysis, and electrolyte panel. Abdominal palpation may indicate swelling or other intestinal irregularities. Visual diagnostics including X-rays or ultrasound imaging may be ordered and an endoscopy will likely be performed. In addition to providing a visual image of the intestines, an endoscope may also be used to extract tissue samples for biopsy and/or to remove foreign bodies that have been ingested.

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Treatment of Intestinal Obstruction in Cats

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

Stabilization

If the affected cat is experiencing dehydration or electrolyte imbalance, it will need to be stabilized before any other treatments can be provided. Fluids and electrolytes will likely be administered intravenously and in some cases, plasma may be provided. 

Non-Surgical Treatment

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

In most cases, the veterinarian will attempt to remove foreign objects using an endoscope. This is less invasive than surgery, but it is difficult to ensure that no residual items remain in the intestinal tract. Endoscopes are also unable to remove large objects such as rocks.

Surgical Removal 

When attempts to remove the foreign body using an endoscope have been unsuccessful, surgical removal under anesthesia will likely be needed. During this process, the veterinarian will locate the blockage and make a small incision in the stomach or intestine in order to remove it. Once the surgeon has confirmed that all foreign materials have been removed, incisions will be closed using sutures.

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Recovery of Intestinal Obstruction in Cats

When veterinary care is provided promptly, prognosis for affected cats is generally positive as long as there are no surgical complications. Following surgery, pain medication and antibiotics will be prescribed and the cat may need to remain in the hospital for several days. Once the cat is able to hold down food and liquids, it will be able to return home. It should then be kept calm and given a quiet place to recuperate away from children and other pets. Care should be taken to keep the cat from licking the sutures and an Elizabethan collar may be needed.

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

Precautions should be taken to prevent the cat from ingesting objects in the future. This may include covering trash cans and keeping dangerous objects such as string and yarn out of reach.

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Intestinal Obstruction Average Cost

From 484 quotes ranging from $500 - $2,500

Average Cost

$1,200

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Intestinal Obstruction Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Poe

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Siamese/Domestic Medium Hair Mutt

dog-age-icon

3 Months

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Mild severity

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2 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Lethargy, Fever, 3Rd Eyelid Showing

I'm not 100% on if it is a blockage or something with kidneys. My 3 month old kitten started to become lethargic and play less and 2 days later, he was extremely warm with his 3rd eyelids completely covering his eyes; complete with some sneezing and a little bit of wheezing - so I took him in to the vet. The vet thought he either had a kitten flu/cold or an Upper Repiratory infection. They prescribed him antibiotics while wanting to do testing for FIV as the shelter I got him from was not able to due to his age. It's been two weeks now and he's on his last antibiotic dose. His fever is mostly gone though he still feels slightly warm from time to time, I don't know how warm a kitten should be. His third eyelids are not covering his eyes anymore with eye drops, but he's still lethargic and isn't wanting to do anything besides eat & sleep. Eating is a tiny bit less than normal, he's definitely hungry. Drinks water normally, though I think it may be slightly longer. He does not play or run or do kitten things and has progressively lost a small amt of weight and has some kind of rounded something underneath his ribs on both sides. I cannot tell if this is his kidneys or part of his stomach, he's not a big fan of his belly being touched. He still gets wheezy if you pick him up too quick but only for a moment. Has a small amount of snoring occasionally. Was given a small amount of fluids at the vet for very mild dehydration. Had very mild, but rare sinus leakage & watery eyes - diagnosis was originally allergies.

Sept. 13, 2018

Poe's Owner

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Millie

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domestic short hair

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1 Year

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Eating
Crouching,
Excessive Licking In Left Stomach
Playing Normally

Millie has eaten string once before. We didn’t know the signs so we waited until it got bad. ashe was vomiting, not eating or drinking. She had to get 1/3 of her intestines removed during surgery. She hasn’t thrown up and still eats, drinks and plays as normal, but I know she got into string. She’s actually been more playful than normal right now. I know she got into string because I saw the evidence. She has been crouching in a position that vets have told me are “pain positions.” I also pressed on her lower left stomach and she growled at me, which she never does. She’s still supper cuddly, loves peoples affection, but I am worried that it’s going to get worse. I am planning on taking her into the vet tomorrow for x rays. I believe this happened three days ago. How long is too late? I don’t want the string to poke through her intestines again, she will not survive it.

Sept. 12, 2018

Millie's Owner

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Intestinal Obstruction Average Cost

From 484 quotes ranging from $500 - $2,500

Average Cost

$1,200

Vet bills can sneak up on you.

Plan ahead. Get the pawfect insurance plan for your pup.

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