Intussusception in Dogs

Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Older dog lying down on the floor

stonena7 / Getty Images

Intussusception is a condition affecting a dog's intestines that can cause both discomfort and a dangerous blockage of intestinal contents. The intestinal tract is supposed to move food from the stomach to the rectum, but intussusception interrupts this process. While it's not readily obvious from the outside, this problem often causes symptoms of gastrointestinal distress that owners can recognize, and a thorough veterinary exam can help identify intussusception so that it can be surgically repaired if necessary.

What Is Intussusception?

Intussusception refers to an abnormal telescopic action within the intestines, in which the terminal portion of the small intestine pushes, or "back up," into the large intestine. This intestinal inversion prevents food and waste from moving through the body.

Symptoms of Intussusception in Dogs

The signs of intussusception resemble other digestive issues like indigestion or colitis, but they do not resolve with dietary intervention.

Symptoms

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Bloody stool
  • Hunched back

Obvious gastrointestinal symptoms may include loose stools or diarrhea, bloody feces, vomiting, and a decreased appetite. Intussusception causes pain in the abdomen. which may cause a dog to pull in its belly and hunch its back.

In some cases, a small amount of food can pass through the intestinal inversion, causing intermittent symptoms. These cases are more difficult to recognize and may lead to chronic or recurring intussusception.

Causes of Intussusception in Dogs

Several things can cause intussusception in dogs but they all culminate in intestinal inflammation.

  • Foreign bodies: If a dog consumes an object other than food, the foreign body may get stuck in the intestinal tract, causing obstruction and inversion.
  • Intestinal parasites: Hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, and other intestinal parasites can inflame a dog's intestines and cause intussusception.
  • Viral or bacterial infections: Some infections have been known to result in intussusception.
  • Tumors: Just like a foreign body that causes an obstruction, some internal tumors or masses can restrict normal intestinal function and inflame the tissues.
  • Dietary changes: If digestive upset occurs due to a sudden change in food, intussusception may result from intestinal inflammation.
  • Surgery: If surgery has been performed on the intestinal tract, scarring may disrupt the normal activity of the intestines and cause intussusception.
  • Trauma: Major abdominal trauma, such as being hit by a car, can damage the intestines, causing them to invert.

Diagnosing Intussusception in Dogs

Intussusception can be difficult for a veterinarian to diagnose, especially if it has become chronic. If common reasons for digestive upset have been ruled out, then x-rays and an abdominal ultrasound may be recommended to examine the intestines. Sometimes a barium contrast study can be useful, but exploratory surgery is the most reliable means of diagnosing intussusception.

Treatment of Intussusception in Dogs

Surgical correction by a veterinarian is almost always necessary to correct intussusception. If not treated promptly, intussusception can restrict blood flow and cause parts of the intestines to die. If this occurs, the dead portions of the intestinal tract will need to be surgically removed to prevent infection.

Prognosis for Dogs with Intussusception

Early recognition and treatment are crucial in the repair and damage-control of intussusception. Once surgically corrected, most dogs' intestines function properly and they experience a full recovery.

If intussusception has developed into a chronic problem, then damage to the intestines and the possibility of infection make recovery more challenging.

How to Prevent Intussusception in Dogs

Prevention of intussusception can be difficult, but promoting a healthy intestinal tract may help. Regular use of intestinal parasite prevention, gradual dietary changes, and ensuring your dog doesn't eat foreign objects can help decrease the chances of this condition occurring in your dog.