Cats love to play with strings, ribbons and rubber bands but unfortunately, they sometimes ingest these items, making intestinal blockage surgery for cats surprisingly common. Our Irvine vets explain.
How do intestinal blockages happen in cats?
An intestinal blockage is a very serious condition in cats, often caused by your feline friend eating something indigestible such as the string from a roast, a ribbon or other small objects, although a blockage may also occur due to a lodged clump of fur or hairball.
Indigestible objects swallowed by pets are known as foreign bodies, and when they completely or partially obstruct your kitty's intestinal tract or bowel they are not only painful but can also be deadly.
There are 3 types of intestinal blockages that your cat could experience, complete, partial and linear.
Complete Intestinal Blockage in Cats
A complete blockage occurs when there is an obstruction causing a total blockage of your cat's GI tract. This type of blockage can occur anywhere along the GI tract but is most often seen where there are sphincters (muscles that regulate the flow of material through the GI tract) or narrow sections.
Signs of a complete intestinal blockage include:
- Uncharacteristic behavior or aggression
- Lack of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Lack of energy
- The appearance of partial item from the anus
How can intestinal blockages in cats be prevented?
A complete intestinal blockage is a medical emergency! If you believe that your cat has eaten something they shouldn't have, or if your cat is showing any of the symptoms above, it is essential to see your vet as soon as possible. A complete intestinal blockage is a life-threatening condition.
Partial Intestinal Blockage
A partial intestinal blockage will allow some materials to travel through your cat's intestines and may result in similar symptoms to those of a complete blockage. That said, your cat may have a partial blockage and show no symptoms at all, however, there is a risk that damage is occurring within your cat's GI tract such as open sores and tears that could lead to pain and infection. In some severe cases, sepsis can occur which is a serious medical condition that can quickly be fatal.
Linear Intestinal Blockage
Linear blockages can occur if your cat eats long thin objects such as string, tinsel or fishing line. These blockages can occur without any symptoms in the early stages. However, as your cat's GI tract struggles to move the object along over the coming days and weeks a bunching of the intestine or bowels can result. When this happens the intestines can lose oxygen causing permanent, serious damage. There is also a risk of the foreign item slicing through the wall of the intestine causing leakage into the abdomen.
Does my cat need surgery to treat an intestinal obstruction?
If your cat swallows an item they shouldn't take them to the vet immediately. Your vet will be able to do an ultrasound to confirm that the object has not passed through to the intestines yet and may be able to remove the object by inducing vomiting or using endoscopy, which is less invasive than intestinal blockage surgery. Never try to induce vomiting yourself without veterinary supervision.
Intestinal blockages can be fatal for your cat. If your vet confirms that your cat has an intestinal blockage emergency surgery will be necessary to remove the blockage and in some cases tissue that has been damaged due to the blockage.
Will my cat be ok after intestinal blockage surgery?
Your cat's recovery after intestinal blockage surgery will depend upon the severity of the damage caused by the block. There is a relatively high risk of abdominal infection (peritonitis) following this surgery, so your vet may wish to keep your cat in hospital until the risk of infection is reduced and your cat is eating normally again.
In the days following your cat's surgery, your vet will monitor your cat's recovery closely for signs of infection and provide treatment right away. Peritonitis is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate treatment.
How can I prevent my cat from developing an intestinal obstruction?
It can be difficult to predict what your cat may suddenly decide looks appetizing, so it's essential to keep tempting items such as elastic bands, small hair ties, and especially the strings off of cuts of meat and chicken, well out of your cat's reach. It's also a very good idea to avoid the use of tinsel at Christmas time as these thin strands of sparkling plastic can easily cause issues for your cat's health if swallowed.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.