Intussusception is an uncommon but
potentially life threatening condition that can occur in cats and dogs
of all ages. There are many different causes of this condition, several
of which can be eliminated through good routine health practices.
Treatment options are almost exclusively surgical. Surgery is often
successful if the condition is caught early.
What is intussusception?
Intussusception is the sliding or telescoping of the intestine within
itself. It occurs primarily in the small intestine but may
occasionally occur in the large intestine. When the intestine slides
within itself the blood supply to that section is greatly reduced and
the tissue begins to swell and then die. The entire process can occur
rapidly, which makes early detection and treatment essential.
Who gets an intussusception?
Puppies and kittens are the most likely ones to develop
intussusception although it can occur in any age or species. There does
not appear to be a specific breed predilection.
What causes intussusception?
There are several conditions that predispose a dog or cat to
developing an intussusception. Many of these conditions affect the
motility of the intestine. Intussusception is seen more commonly in
puppies or kittens carrying large numbers of intestinal parasites such
as roundworms, hookworms, or whipworms. Viral (e.g., parvovirus in
puppies) or bacterial gastroenteritis is another common cause.
Linear foreign bodies like string in cats, or pieces of plastic, bone or
wood in the dog can all lead to the development of intussusception.
Tumors or recent abdominal surgery may also contribute to the
development of this condition.
What are the symptoms of intussusception?
When the small intestine telescopes into itself, movement of
intestinal contents is partially or completely blocked, therefore the
dog or cat commonly vomits. Once the gastrointestinal tract behind the
intussusception empties, stools are scant to none. Any fecal material
that is passed is jelly-like, may be bloody, and not well formed. The
appetite will be greatly depressed. The animal experiences severe
abdominal pain, and eventually shock and then death.
How is intussusception diagnosed?
Diagnosis is usually tentatively made based on the symptoms and the
palpation of a firm sausage-shaped mass in the abdomen. Diagnosis is
confirmed with x-rays (usually using barium) and possibly exploratory
What are the risks associated with an intussusception?
An intussusception is serious; left untreated it will result in
death. As the intestines telescope into one another, pressure
restricts blood flow to the area. Portions of the intestines
therefore may actually die, and toxins and bacteria may be released into
the rest of the body.
What is the treatment of intussusception?
Treatment consists of either surgically "sliding" the
telescoping portion of the intestine apart, or complete surgical removal
of the intussusception. The size of the intussusception, amount of
damage to the tissues, and the length of time the animal has had the
condition will dictate which procedure is used. Post surgically the
have to go through a normal recovery period. If the intussusception is
caught soon enough and the animal undergoes a successful surgery, most
will recover completely. One recent study suggested that up to 25% of
dogs that develop an intussusception would have a reoccurrence in the
future. There is a surgical procedure called "enteroplication"
in which the loops of intestine are attached to one another and thus
reduces the incidence of reoccurrence in some pets.
What can be done to prevent an intussusceptions?
If the owner follows good deworming and vaccinating programs as well as
preventing access to foreign bodies, the incidence of intussusception
can be reduced. Early recognition and treatment of other intestinal
diseases can also help minimize the chance of an intussusception.
Finally, if the owner recognizes the symptoms of an intussusception
early, and the animal receives prompt veterinary care, most animals can
be successfully treated. Joe Bodewes, DVM
Bojrab, J. Current Techniques in Small Animal Surgery, 4th
edition. Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore, MD 1990
All images and text on this site Copyright © 1998-2019 Harlequin Haven Great Dane Rescue, Inc. unless otherwise credited. Use of any image or text without written permission is expressly forbidden. All rights reserved.