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Intussusception in Cats

By: Dr. Bari Spielman

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An intussusception is the telescoping of one part of the intestinal tract into an adjoining segment of intestinal tract. It commonly involves the small intestines. Intussusception can cause narrowing or obstruction of the lumen (inside diameter) of the intestines, resulting in an acute emergency. Intussusception can also cause waxing and waning signs if the intussusception is periodically relieved by the affected segment of intestine moving back and forth from a telescoped position into a normal position.

Intussusceptions are seen in both dogs and cats. Although intussusceptions can occur in all ages of animals, it is most common in young cats. Intussusceptions secondary to tumors are more common in older pets.


  • Idiopathic (unknown cause)
  • Secondary to enteritis (inflammation or infection of the intestinal tract)
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Previous intestinal surgery
  • Intestinal mass

    What to Watch For

    Clinical signs and disease progression vary markedly depending on the location and degree of blockage associated with the intussusception. Some signs may include:

  • Vomiting
  • Vomiting blood
  • Anorexia (loss of appetite)
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • Signs of shock, collapse, and sudden death within several hours with complete obstruction of the intestinal track


    The clinical signs associated with intussusception can be vague and nonspecific, so several tests are often necessary to confirm the diagnosis. Such tests include:

  • Complete history and thorough physical examination. Careful palpation of the abdomen may reveal a firm, sausage-shaped mass.
  • A complete blood count (CBC), biochemical profile, urinalysis and fecal examination
  • Thoracic (chest) and abdominal radiographs (X-rays) to eliminate a foreign body of the gastrointestinal tract or other disease process
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Barium study of the upper gastrointestinal tract
  • Endoscopy of the gastrointestinal tract
  • Possibly surgical exploration of the abdomen


    Patients with an intussusception require hospitalization and aggressive treatment, as clinical deterioration may be rapid and can be fatal. Most of these cases are surgical emergencies.

    Aggressive intravenous fluid and electrolyte therapy is also extremely important. Antibiotics are usually prescribed and your veterinarian may also recommend a specific post-operative diet.

    Home Care

    The prognosis for patients with an intussusception is variable, depending on the severity and degree of the intussusception and the associated clinical signs. Most cases of intussusception cannot be prevented.

    Administer all medication and recommended diets as directed by your veterinarian. If your pet has a recurrence of signs, which is most likely within the first week of surgery, contact your veterinarian at once.

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