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.
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:
- Unwillingness to eat
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling
- Weight Loss
- Subnormal body temperature
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Crying or whimpering
- Unwillingness to lie down
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
- Inflammation of gastrointestinal tract
- Pyloric stenosis
- Intussusception (may be caused by intestinal parasites)
- Intestinal twisting
- Overgrowth of stomach tissue
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.
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.
If the affected cat is experiencing extreme 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.
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.
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.
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.
Intestinal Obstruction Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I think my cat has a bowel obstruction. I pray he doesn't This started yesterday morning. After eating and drinking per usual; he went to cat box. He growled and hissed and moaned and got out of box w/o using it. I thought maybe he had been bitten by a scorpion or spider. I immediately checked him out and found nothing...and checked the catbox, the entire bathroom, and deep cleaned everything. He drank and ate per usual the rest of day. He attempted to use cat box that evening and did the same. He acts as though he is in pain and cant pee/poop. It is now day 2- he acting normal- ate and drank- went to box and hissed and cried when he attempted to use the bathroom. His belly is soft. He doesn't mind when I palpate it. He will not let me look at his butt under his tail- he leans to bite me (which is super not like him). When I woke up this morning he had vomited on the floor- regular looking- no hairballs. Please help. Thank you!
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Please advise if possible. I first became alarmed after discovering drops of blood around the house, which by process of elimination and examination, lead me to it's source; my cat, Maggie.
Through further observation of her after these findings, I saw that when trying to use the litter box, she would strain profusely, and very little feces would be produced and was of a liquid consistency.
There are three other cats and four dogs in the household. They are all free from any such issues. I had considered the possibility of inadvertent poisoning of some sort, but as she is the only pet of the household with these issues I think it unlikely.
As of yesterday the litter has been changed from clumping to non clumping, as I suspect that perhaps she has ingested enough of it over time in grooming herself that some sort of clogging digestive problem has been induced, but I am only guessing at that as a possibility.
What could be causing these symptoms?
What can I do to help her heal?
Thank you so very much.
Obstructions may occur for various reasons, the problem is the severity and type of an obstruction; obstructions may be caused by foreign bodies, parasites, tumours and hairballs (to name a few). Mixing some mineral oil into Maggie’s food may help lubricate the passage of a possible blockage. If the problem persists, visit your Veterinarian for an examination. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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how is an mri performed on a cat does the cat have to be put under sedation is this the best way over an above an ultrasound and xray to see why the small intestines are clumped together with changes in the intestinal wall in some areas my cat is eating unbelievably drinking a good amount of water walking around and jumping up on coach and bed laying on her stomach stretching her paws on trees to scratch her nails urinating etleast four times a day will go to litter box to try to poop pushes a little but nothing violently two weeks ago she lost her ability to walk and stand up on her rt side looked as if she had a stroke immediately went to vet and was told her bp was over 300 now on 2 bp meds amlodipine and benazepril last appt bp was down to 120 to help w her bowel movements i give her 1/4 teaspoon of miralax twice a day and 1 ml of lactulose twice a day i started her on miralax on last wed and she has been on the lactulose since march 10th there is no significant change in her bowel movements at all last good bowel movement was thursday 03-16 in the shape of 2 individual tootsie roll candies they are hard the litter does stick to them and i can slightly push them in upon squeezing my fingers together she has done 2 very small poops the shape and size of a raisin which are so hard i could have sworn it was a small stone
Animals are usually sedated during MRI’s as movements can blur images rendering them useless; but in circumstances where sedation isn’t appropriate they may be held in place with non-invasive devices, but normally sedated. Before an MRI is recommended, x-rays and ultrasound should be performed to see if there is any obstruction in the intestine. An MRI will give a greater resolution and is reserved for cases where x-ray and ultrasound have been unable to find a cause. A clumping together of the intestines may be caused by a string foreign body which would need to be surgically removed. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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My cat isn't eating. He doesn't have pancreatitis desease, per vet test. We have given him nausea meds, appetite meds, vasoline, and mineral oil. He is showing no pain symptoms and plays without any restrictions. It has been 16 days and he had only about six ounces of food during this time. [email protected]
Various cause may be causing Stormy to have no interest in food; dental problems, intestinal obstruction, dietary changes, food spoilage, liver disease, kidney disease or a large hairball can all cause a loss of appetite in cats. An x-ray or ultrasound may be useful to see if there is anything in his abdomen. Appetite stimulants may be prescribed by your Veterinarian (if appropriate) to encourage Stormy to eat. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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Hi.. My cat vomitted out parts of a nerf gun foam bullet yesterday. I do not know if he had ingested the whole bullet as i cannot find the rest of the bullet in the house. When i gave it canned food last night, he vomitted all of his food out. Twice. Does my cat need veterinary care asap? Its still active. Not sure about his drinking today and he has not eaten yet.
It would be best to visit your Veterinarian especially as you are unable to find the other part of the Nerf bullet which may be causing an obstruction. It is better to play it safe as intestinal obstructions may become medical emergencies. Until you visit your Veterinarian ensure that Cookies stays hydrated. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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