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Intussusception in dogs and cats

Intussusception is an uncommon problem that can occur in the intestine where one part of the gut slides into the next part in a telescoping action. This can cause a blockage or particle blockage where food and intestinal contents cannot bypass this section of gut leading to signs of a gut obstruction. Here our vet describes what to look for and how an intussusception is treated.

This article was written by a FirstVet vet


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What causes an intussusception?

When the gut is inflamed (enteritis) an intussusception is more likely to occur, so any condition causing enteritis is a risk factor for an intussusception. Conditions include:

  • Sudden dietary changes

  • Parasites for example worms

  • Infections - bacterial, viral or protozoal

  • Surgery

  • Foreign material in the gut or an obstruction

  • Tumours of the abdomen

Intussusceptions are most likely seen in young animals with a history of some sort of gut disturbance. It can occur in both dogs and cats.

What are the symptoms of an intussusception?

The symptoms depend upon whether the intussusception is acute and causes intestinal obstruction, or chronic (been there a long time). Symptoms may include:

  • Vomiting - often large quantities and persists over several days. Often cannot keep food or water down

  • Diarrhoea - often with blood or mucus. Sometimes an absence of faeces altogether.

  • Abdominal pain- reluctance to move, hunched up back, crying/whimpering

  • Anorexia - not eating

  • Nausea - drooling, not eating, lip smacking, lethargy

  • It is possible for the intussusception to be recurrent/intermittent, so sometimes these symptoms can come and go

How is an intussusception diagnosed?

Your vet will take the history and perform a physical exam and if they are suspicious they will recommend imaging which usually involves ultrasound and x-rays to look for the intussusception. They may also recommend other investigations such as blood tests and faecal analysis to screen for other conditions and help look for any predisposing causes.

How is an intussusception treated?

Treatment is often aimed at addressing the underlying cause, so treating the inflammation that would have been a factor in the intussusception occurring. Usually surgery is performed to remove the piece of gut that has folded abnormally (an enterectomy) and re-attach the remaining gut. The cost of surgery for an intussusception will vary by geographical location, other factors such as how systemically compromised your pet is, length of hospital stay and how severe any underlying condition is, but can range from £1200-2500.

Possible complications can include bleeding, breakdown of the sutures holding the gut leading to septic peritonitis, septicaemia or infection of the external skin wound.

Other supportive measures are often needed, such as intravenous fluids, antibiotics and antacids, to help stabilise the patient. Recovery from surgery for an intussusception usually takes 10-14 days with a buster collar/medical pet shirt and strict lead rest with pain relief and sometimes antibiotics.

Can we prevent an intussusception?

We cannot completely prevent an intussusception occurring, but the below points will help reduce the likelihood of one occurring in your pet:

  • Do not let your pet chew toys into bits that they can swallow, avoid toys like ribbon or string that they can easily swallow when playing

  • Keep up to date with regular parasitic prevention treatment. This is usually a tape worming treatment every 3-6 months and a worming treatment for roundworm every 1 to 3 months, but your physical vet will discuss your pet’s individual needs with you

  • If your pet develops diarrhoea or vomiting, ensure you seek veterinary treatment promptly. Follow the veterinarian's advice and complete any courses of medication given

  • Make any changes to the diet slowly, mixing new food with the current diet over several days to a week, some dogs may need even slower changes

  • Monitor cats carefully for hair balls, especially when they are moulting

Still have questions?

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