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Intestinal obstructions are very common in dogs and cats, but can also occur in ferrets, rabbits, guinea pigs, and small pets.

The causes that lead to intestinal obstruction are very diverse, and without timely treatment, the disease leads to the death of the animal.

Development of an intestinal obstruction

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Dogs and cats of all ages and breeds can be affected. In young animals, ingested foreign bodies that cannot be digested often lead to intestinal obstruction. Foreign bodies are indigestible objects such as B. toy parts, chestnuts, nut shells or whole nuts, scraps of cloth etc. which the animal swallows and which are so large that they get stuck in the intestine. These foreign bodies are not transported to the rectum and therefore cannot be excreted naturally. If these objects get stuck on their way through the intestine, the diameter of the intestine becomes completely or partially closed. The mashed food from the stomach can no longer be transported any further and builds up. The result of the intestinal obstruction is that the animals suddenly vomit. The foreign body also puts pressure on the very sensitive intestinal wall, damaging it. Especially if the foreign body is stuck in one place for a long time, parts of the intestine can die off and the intestinal wall can break through as a result. In this case, intestinal contents escape freely into the abdominal cavity and cause massive infectious peritonitis there within a very short time. Affected animals are usually taken to the vet with severe symptoms in shock.

Causes of intestinal obstruction

Indigestible items such as B. toy parts, chestnuts, nut shells or whole nuts, scraps of cloth but also organic material that is normally digested can, if it leaves the stomach too quickly, block the intestine z. B. pieces of bone, chewing bones, nut kernels, chickpeas etc.

So-called strand-like foreign bodies are a special form. B. nylon tights fall under it, and are often ingested by dogs, but especially by cats. Often sutures remain with one end at an anchor point such. B. hanging under the tongue or in the stomach, while the other end is transported further by the intestinal movement. The intestine threads itself onto the thread and over time begins to saw itself through the thread, which in turn leads to peritonitis.

Swallowed hairballs can also lead to intestinal obstruction, especially in cats, but also in rabbits and dogs.

Even without ingesting foreign material, our pets can experience intestinal obstruction if there is no longer any passage of the intestinal tube for the mashed food. So e.g. B. Intestinal tumors, invaginations (a piece of intestine pulls over another), abscesses in the gastrointestinal tract or the so-called Bridenileus (connective tissue clamps constrict the intestine, often the result of previous operations in the abdomen or caused by inflammation) to the complete or partial obstruction of the intestine.


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The main symptom of intestinal obstruction is vomiting. Mostly multiple, sometimes gushing. Depending on how long the intestinal obstruction has existed, but also on whether it is a partial or complete intestinal obstruction, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, lack of defecation, diarrhea and a deterioration in general well-being up to and including shock are sometimes also present.


A thorough clinical examination of the animal and questioning the owner about the symptoms is required to make a diagnosis. As a rule, further examinations using imaging diagnostics such as X-rays, ultrasound and/or passage of contrast medium (contrast medium administered orally is tracked on its way through the gastrointestinal tract by means of several X-rays in several levels) are necessary for diagnosis. Exactly which diagnosis is to be used must be decided for each patient individually.

Furthermore, it makes sense to be able to better assess the patient’s condition by means of laboratory diagnostics. Electrolyte shifts and fluid loss in the patient often occur, which should be compensated for by means of infusions before anesthesia is required to remove the foreign body.


Surgery is usually required to treat the intestinal obstruction. The intestine is opened under general anesthesia, the foreign body is removed and the intestine is closed again (enterotomy). If the intestine is irreparably damaged, or if a tumor causes the intestinal blockage, it may be necessary to remove the altered piece of intestine down to the healthy tissue. The remaining ends of the bowel are then sewn together again (enterectomy = bowel resection).

Of course, the animal must be provided with infusions, painkillers, etc. before, during and after the operation and must be closely monitored. Inpatient admission to a clinic is recommended so that the condition of the animal can be monitored at all times. This allows early intervention even in the event of complications, which is vital for the patient.


The prognosis depends on the type of intestinal obstruction, the duration of the obstruction and thus the degree of damage to the intestine, but also on existing complications such as peritonitis, blood poisoning or diseases of other organ systems.

If the intestinal obstruction is diagnosed early and repaired surgically, the prognosis is generally good. However, the longer the symptoms persist, the more frequently complications occur and the prognosis becomes correspondingly poorer.

When should you contact the vet?

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In the case of acute, frequent vomiting, a veterinarian should be consulted immediately, since the earlier the diagnosis is made, the better the prognosis. Appropriate therapy can be initiated as quickly as possible.