For the love of your pet: Intestinal obstructions common in cats, dogs
Gastrointestinal obstruction is a very common condition that occurs frequently in dogs and cats. Young dogs are generally at a higher risk because they are not picky about what they eat. An intestinal obstruction is simply a blockage of the flow of food material in the gastrointestinal tract. The obstruction can be partial or complete, may occur in any area of the gastrointestinal tract and can be caused by many different reasons.
If the obstruction occurs in the stomach, then you will see vomiting, dehydration, lethargy and weight loss. Small intestinal obstruction will also cause these symptoms; however, damage to the intestinal lining can result in death of the bowel and potentially toxemia (toxins in the blood).
There are many things that can lead to gastrointestinal obstruction, including tumors, inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, gastric outflow obstruction because of thickening, twisting of the gut, intussusceptions (telescoping of the intestine) and, most commonly, foreign bodies. In dogs, we commonly see obstruction because of ingestion of toys, whereas string is a very prevalent culprit in cats.
Your veterinarian will likely want to perform X-rays to look for an abnormality. If obstruction is suspected, a barium dye study may be performed to help determine the extent of the obstruction and possibly even the cause.
Endoscopy may also be used, which is a procedure in which a small tube that contains a camera may be passed down the mouth and into the stomach to look for the source of the obstruction. Ultrasonography could also be a useful tool to help visualize what is in the stomach or small intestine.
Treatment of intestinal obstruction typically consists of removing the obstruction via surgery. How quickly the obstruction is removed will determine your animal's prognosis. After surgery, fluids, a bland diet and antibiotics are the mainstays of treatment.
The best way to prevent an obstruction is to take precautions, particularly around repeat offenders. You will want to limit access to any object that your pet can chew and swallow. Cats are notorious for ingesting string, whereas dogs ingest squeaky toys, rocks, plants, table scraps or garbage.
This may mean kenneling your pet during the day or when you are not there to watch him or her. You will also want to keep all garbage as well as dead animals away from your pet.
Intestinal obstructions can be potentially deadly. If you see any of the above listed clinical signs or know for sure that your pet ate something it shouldn't have, then it is best to contact your local veterinarian for further advice. Time is of the essence with intestinal foreign bodies; therefore, if you wait too long, your pet's life may be in jeopardy.
Dr. Shana Bohac has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. She works on both small animals and equine patients. Submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.