How To Identify A Cat Bowel Obstruction The Signs & Symptoms To Keep An Eye Out For

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Bowel obstruction is when there is a blockage in the gastrointestinal tract preventing food from moving through normally. If you think your cat might have eaten something that could have caused a bowel obstruction, it is important to them your cat to the vet immediately. Learn what signs to look out for here.

Cats have a reputation for being curious creatures, and sometimes that curiosity means they get into things they shouldn’t. If your cat chews up or swallows something indigestible while exploring, it could mean serious trouble for their bowels. A bowel obstruction, or gastrointestinal obstruction, is any partial or complete blockage that prevents foods and fluids from moving normally through the GI tract.

A bowel obstruction can affect digestion, and in severe cases, it can also lead to poor blood circulation to the bowels. Without treatment, poor blood circulation can lead to shock, tissue death, and septic peritonitis (a life-threatening infection that occurs when tissues deteriorate and dangerous contents leak into the abdomen).

In some cases, a blockage may pass on its own. In others, a cat will require surgery. Always contact your veterinarian if you suspect that your cat has swallowed something indigestible. Read on to learn all about cat bowel obstruction.

Causes of Cat Bowel Obstruction

An obstruction can occur in either the stomach (gastric outflow obstruction) or in the small intestines (small intestinal obstruction). There are many factors that can cause either type of obstruction, but the most common is ingestion of a foreign object. Sticks, rocks, toys, string, fabrics, and just about anything else your cat can get their paws on can be swallowed and become lodged in the GI tract. Kittens are at particular risk because they tend to ingest objects indiscriminately.

Certain medical conditions can also contribute to the formation of a blockage, including tumors, hernias, roundworm infestation, gastroenteritis (inflammation of the GI tract), gastritis (inflammation of stomach lining), intestinal stricture (narrowing of the intestine), torsion (twisted intestine), pyloric stenosis (narrowing of the stomach area that connects to the small intestine), and intussusception (in which a portion of the small intestine slides into the next like a telescope).

Symptoms of Cat Bowel Obstruction

The symptoms that your cat exhibits can vary depending on the location of the blockage in the GI tract and whether the blockage is complete or partial. Symptoms may include:

  • Vomiting (intermittent if partial blockage, more frequent and without relief if complete blockage). The vomiting may be projectile if in the upper small intestines, and may be brown and fecal-smelling if in the lower GI tract.
  • If partial blockage, diarrhea. If complete blockage, the cat may not defecate or pass gas.
  • Dehydration
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite

Treatment for Cat Bowel Obstruction

If you suspect that your cat is suffering from a bowel obstruction, contact your veterinarian. They will most likely use an x-ray or ultrasound to reveal the obstruction. In some cases, a gastric endoscopy may be necessary. A gastric endoscopy is a procedure in which a tube with a camera at the end is inserted into the cat’s GI tract. If the blockage is small and reachable, your veterinarian may even be able to use endoscopic tools to remove it during exploration.

If the obstruction cannot be located with any of the above means, exploratory abdominal surgery may be recommended. This surgery will require general anesthesia and will allow your veterinarian to look for and hopefully remove the obstruction.

For most cats, the goals of treatment will be stabilizing the cat’s condition, removing the obstruction, and repairing any issues damaged by the obstruction.

  • Many cats will need to be stabilized at the hospital with intravenous fluids and electrolytes

  • Abdominal surgery, or a laparotomy, will be required for many cats, especially those with obstructions in the small intestine.

  • If the cat has torsion (twisted intestine), the veterinarian will perform a gastropexy. This involves untwisting the intestine and tacking it to the side of the stomach to prevent it from twisting again.

  • If parts of the bowels have deteriorated or died, your veterinarian may remove the affected sections and then suture the remainder back together.

  • Antibiotics are commonly prescribed following surgery to ward off infection. Painkillers and medications to manage stomach upset may also be prescribed.

  • Cats can begin eating again once the obstruction is removed and the vomiting has subsided. However, you should start your cat out on a bland food or one recommended by your veterinarian before returning them to their normal diet.

The prognosis for bowel obstruction can vary and will depends on the severity of the obstruction, what damage has been caused, and how soon you seek treatment. Obstructions can be very serious and many result in death, so it is important to see your veterinarian at the first sign of trouble.

Protect your cat from bowel obstruction by discouraging inappropriate chewing and consumption of indigestibles. Keep any dangerous objects that your cat might find tempting away from reach, and ask your veterinarian to recommend toys that will keep your cat both entertained and safe.

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