Signs of Intestinal Blockage in Cats

Updated on November 17, 2016
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Adrienne is a former veterinary hospital assistant, certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Curious kitties may swallow non-food items

Although dogs are very well known for gulping down the most awkward foreign objects, cats on the other hand, are a little more picky and less likely to swallow non-food items. However, some cats may be attracted to some small knick-knacks found around the house, causing them serious and often life threatening intestinal obstructions.

Items Cats Most Commonly Swallow

The most common items that are swallowed by cats consist of small buttons, strings, coins, Christmas tinsel, Easter basket grass, thread, toys, yarn, and even needles. Sometimes the causes may be something that the cat ate such as a piece of bone or a chuck of a corn cob. The most affected cats are young ones generally kittens and cats under the age of 2. This is because at these ages, cats are at the peak of their curiosity phase leading them towards trouble.

Other Possible Causes of Intestinal Obstructions

  • At times, cats, in particular kittens, may be affected by a blockage created by intestinal parasites. This is mostly seen in kittens heavily infested by roundworms.
  • In some cases, the blockage may be caused by a hernia or tumor which has grown big enough to block the cat's intestinal tract. This is mostly seen in senior cats.
  • Long haired cats may get their intestinal tract blocked by large hairballs.
  • An intussessception may take place at times, where for unknown reasons the bowel will present telescoped upon itself, in a similar matter as a sock turned inside out.

Intestinal obstructions can be partial or total. In total obstructions, the cat will exhibit subtle signs are often intermittent; whereas, in total obstructions the symptoms are more remarkable and dramatic.

Affected cats generally develop the following symptoms listed below. The severity of the symptoms generally depend on various factors such as the part of the affected intestinal tract, if the obstruction is partial or total, and how long the obstruction has been present.

Symptoms Suggesting Intestinal Obstructions in Cats

  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Few if any bowel movements
  • Abdominal pain
  • Hunched up position
  • In some cases, diarrhea

A cat exhibiting symptoms of an intestinal obstruction should see the vet immediately because the obstruction may cause potential complications and even death.

Treatment for Intestinal Blockages in Cats

Once the blockage is in the intestinal tract, the only way to unblock the intestinal tract is to have the cat undergo surgery. This is done under total anesthesia. The prognosis depends on how quickly the cat undergoes surgery, the cat's general state of health, the cause of the obstruction, and if there were any complicating factors involved.

Questions & Answers

    © 2009 Adrienne Janet Farricelli


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        Kim 8 weeks ago

        Yesterday morning, my 8 month old persian was hunched over and in extreme pain. He had had diarrhea during the night. My husband took him to the vet, and they did an ultrasound. His intestines were twisted, and it looked like he had a blockage. The vet performed surgery and untwisted my kitten’s intestines and contents of the intestine passed through on its own. The surgery took less than 10 minutes, and the vet charged $150. It was scary, and he would have died if we had not taken him to the vet immediately.

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        Kathy 2 years ago

        We had 2 cars that were very active and healthy except they threw up a lot. We talked to our vet about it and he gave them a clean bill of health and said they just ate too much too soon. One day our female cat. Started to literally cry and being that it was on a Sunday we called our vet and talked to him by phone. He said it was either gas or an upset stomach. He recommended not feeding her and to bring her into his office in the morning. She seemed to rally a little but a few hours later she became lethargic and I knew something more serious was wrong. I rushed her to a emergency vet service in the next town where that vet took x-rays and said she had a twisted intestine. She died in my arms 10 minutes later. Six days later her brother started to act strange

        The vet thought he was grieving his sister's loss. We insisted on him being seen by the vet. He died the same way of the same thing the next morning. All the vet could tell us was that he thought it was something hereditary. They were six years old and had never had a health problem. Has anyone heard of this before?

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        Peg 5 years ago

        Vicki, have you tried applying for care credit? It's a line of credit for health care. It can also be used for vet care. You have to give an estimated cost . . . you can call the care credit folks . . .talk with your vet about it . . . it's worth a shot. Here's the link

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        vicki 5 years ago

        i just came from the emergency animal hosp because my cat has been ill for the past 3 or 4 days. we believe he may have ingested a part of a plastic bag. i am absolutely heart broken because we can not afford the outrageous medical bills to take care of the diagnostic or surgical part if that is what's needed to make him better. has anyone heard of an obstruction opening up on it's own??? we love our cat dearly and want to make him better. we just can't spend all this money doing it

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        santiq 7 years ago

        yes, This article is very helpful....

      • Eric Prado profile image

        Eric Prado 7 years ago from Webster, Texas

        This has been very helpful. Thank you so much for posting this =)

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        Karen 7 years ago

        My late Burmese cat had a partial bowel obstruction! She was renowned in my home for eating everything - hair ties, electrical cables. When I say everything I literally mean everything.

        She became very unwell. I took her to the vet, who after taking her history and seeing her many times to re-hydrate her or take an array of different tests told me that she had hepatitis. I asked him during one consult why her stomach was making noticeable peristaltic movements and he shrugged and stared at me, because he felt It was time for me to let go.

        Long story short...two vets later and a lot of money keeping her alive!!! An x-ray and palpitation indicated a bowel obstruction. Surgery revealed one of my sons foam letters from a jigsaw! I think it was part of a 'J' or 'T' lol.

        It was a very expensive and emotionally trying experience to go through. My cat was very very ill for quite awhile. It is incredible and concerning the amount of vets out there that are cocky and do not listen to their patients.

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        tpe 7 years ago

        I will be careful of that now.

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        KStyle 7 years ago

        this is very helpful info. I suspected there might be some kind of worms involved but the vet said he was fine.

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        Jorge Vamos 7 years ago

        Hm. Christmas tinsel? My cat likes to lick tape. I hope she doesn't eat any.

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        iamcoolguy 8 years ago

        Scary. Thanks for the information, alexandry. Need to double check everything to prevent this from happening to any cat stopping by at my house.

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        gwennies pen 8 years ago

        Good hub, alexandry! : ) Very informative and helpful to know.