Intestinal Obstruction in Cats

Colon obstruction in cats can cause a variety of symptoms. Therefore, it is not so easy to determine a possible disease. In the following article, you will find out what signs there are of intestinal obstruction in cats, what the causes and how the disease in your fur nose can best be treated.

An intestinal obstruction (ileus) in cats can be incomplete (subileus) or complete. In the case of velvet paws, the possible causes are in particular swallowed foreign bodies such as threads or toys, invaginations of the intestine (intestinal invaginations) as a result of intestinal inflammation or twisting of certain sections of the intestine (volvulus).

Because of these many possibilities, intestinal obstruction can occur in cats of all breeds and ages. If the ileus is not recognized early, it can lead to severe symptoms of shock and the death of the cat. It is therefore important to recognize it early on so that the vet can start treatment in good time.

How Does an Intestinal Obstruction in Cats Develop?

Intestinal obstruction can arise in different ways and occur in different sections of the intestine. For example, occlusions of the small intestine are observed more frequently than occlusions of the large intestine. For a better overview, the clinical picture is classified according to the respective cause:

Mechanical ileus: Mechanical obstacles can restrict the intestinal lumen (inner layer of the intestinal wall) to such an extent that passage of the intestinal contents is no longer possible. The occlusion can either be caused by a narrowing (obstruction, e.g. by an external tumor), by an obstruction of the intestinal lumen (obturation, e.g. by fecal stones or foreign bodies), or by pinching (strangulation, e.g. by a bowel invagination or bowel rotation).

Paralytic ileus: Paralysis of the intestinal muscles can disrupt the muscular activity (peristalsis) of the intestine. Frequent reasons for this are inflammatory processes in the abdominal cavity, for example as part of an inflammation of the pancreas or as a result of an operation. However, poisoning and metabolic disorders should also be taken into account.

Why is an Intestinal Obstruction so Dangerous?

In a healthy cat, ingested food reaches the stomach through the mouth and esophagus. From there, the food pulp is gradually transported in smaller portions into the small intestine. The food pulp is digested in the small intestine and important nutrients are absorbed through the mucous membrane. The pulp is then passed on through the intestinal muscles to the large intestine, which removes valuable water from the remains. The cat then finally excretes the thickened feces through the anus.

However, if intestinal obstruction occurs, this cycle is disturbed: When the food pulp is no longer transported, a backlog occurs. This back pressure usually leads to vomiting of the pent-up food pulp and, due to the formation of gas, to an expansion of the stomach (gastric dilatation). In addition, depending on the severity and type of the intestinal obstruction, important vessels may be pressed.

If, for example, the venous outflow is prevented while the arterial blood flow is maintained, this can lead to massive loss of function and multiple organ failure. The lack of blood in the rest of the body can also lead to hypovolemic shock (due to lack of volume), which can be life-threatening for the cat.

What are the Symptoms of Intestinal Obstruction in Cats?

Not every intestinal obstruction has to suddenly lead to severe pain in the cat. A completely closed bowel causes symptoms faster than an incompletely closed bowel.

The following signs of intestinal obstruction are particularly common:

  • Worsening of general well-being, reluctance to move, and restlessness
  • Increased salivation and choking, possibly vomiting and refusal of food
  • If the intestines are not completely closed, cats sometimes have normal feces. If, on the other hand, the intestine is completely closed, bowel movements can stop completely.
  • The abdominal wall is very tense and many cats are restless, aggressive, or painful while scanning.
  • Some cats meow more often.
  • Cold paws and tremors, severe apathy, unconsciousness, and pale mucous membranes are important warning signs of hypovolemic shock. In this case, you should see a veterinarian immediately, as the situation is life-threatening.

Diagnostic Measures for Intestinal Obstruction

If you have symptoms such as unconsciousness, multiple vomiting or diarrhea, as well as a lack of bowel movements, you should not wait long to see the vet. In addition to intestinal obstruction, it can also be dangerous poisoning or other serious illnesses, for example. In the case of changes in the position of the intestine, the rule is the earlier you can identify the cause, the better the prognosis.

As part of the owner survey (anamnesis), the vet examines your fur nose for its general condition and vital parameters (e.g. breathing and heart rate, internal body temperature, condition of the mucous membranes). These values ​​are very important for planning anesthesia in the event of a necessary surgical procedure. If the cat already has circulatory problems, the circulation is stabilized again by means of infusions, oxygen, or medication.

If an intestinal obstruction is suspected, the vet will then carry out an ultrasound or X-ray examination. In this way, he can localize the cause more precisely and better assess the extent and necessary measures of the ileus. If, for example, surgical measures are required, the information collected will help in the preparation and planning of the operation.

How to Treat an Intestinal Obstruction in Cats

The therapy of an intestinal obstruction always depends on the cause and the location. If it is an emergency such as a constriction, operative measures are usually required.

However, if the cat has only swallowed a small foreign body that can pass through the intestines, or if the intestinal muscles are paralyzed, conservative measures can help. These include, for example:

  • temporary deprivation of food and water
  • Fluid infusions, if necessary with electrolytes
  • Backed-up food pulp can be removed using a gastric tube.
  • Medicines against nausea, vomiting, and pain as well as to stimulate peristalsis (muscle activity of various hollow organs)

What is the Prognosis?

Intestinal obstruction in cats does not always have to be dangerous. Nevertheless, you should immediately consult a veterinarian if you suspect it, as early therapy can significantly improve the prognosis.

How Can I Prevent an Intestinal Obstruction in My Cat?

Cats can develop an intestinal obstruction in different ways, which is why prophylactic measures cannot be generalized. However, to prevent an ileus, you can, for example, look out for exposed items around the house, such as threads or small, misshapen items. Make sure your cat has enough toys available so that it doesn’t hunt for alternatives.

When choosing balcony or garden plants, you should find out about the toxicity of the plants. Oleanders or yew trees, for example, can lead to paralysis of the intestines (and thus to a paralytic ileus) as well as other gastrointestinal problems.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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