Intussusception in Dogs

Older dog lying down on the floor

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Intussusception is not something that you can see happen in a dog but it can cause some serious issues. The intestinal tract is supposed to move food from the stomach to the rectum but if a dog experiences intussusception, this normal process will be interrupted. It's important for dog owners to be aware of this problem, understand how it can occur, and know what they need to do to get it fixed.

What Is Intussusception in Dogs?

Intussusception is a problem that affects the intestines of dogs. The intestines are tube shaped organs and normal peristaltic movement moves food and waste through the intestines to be absorbed and eventually exit the body. Problems can occur with this movement in the intestines and movement can either speed up or slow down, and even stop. Blockages or obstructions of the intestines can also affect this normal movement. If the natural flow of the intestines is compromised then the intestines can move abnormally and actually telescope into another part of the intestines. Intussusception might also be referred to as intestinal telescoping or intestinal invagination due to this action of the intestines. This intestinal problem prevents food and waste from moving through the body and results in a blocked pathway along with other issues.

Signs of Intussusception in Dogs

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

The signs of intussusception will look like many other digestive issues. Gastrointestinal symptoms may include loose stools or diarrhea, bloody feces, vomiting, and a decreased appetite. Intussusception also causes pain in the abdomen. Dogs that have a painful abdomen may cry when their bellies are touched or walk around with a hunched back. In some cases, dogs with chronic forms of intussusception won't show any consistent symptoms which makes diagnosis even more difficult.

Causes of Intussusception in Dogs

There are several things that can cause intussusception in dogs but they all result from intestinal issues with inflammation.

  • Foreign bodies: If a dog consumes something that it shouldn't this object is referred to as a foreign body when it is inside the dog. A foreign body may get stuck in the intestinal tract and then cause an obstruction. If this occurs, normal peristalsis in the intestines as it tries to move the foreign body through the intestines can result in part of the intestines telescoping or folding over itself. This causes an intussusception because of the foreign body. Some foreign body obstructions allow a small amount of food to pass but cause intermittent symptoms of intussusceptions resulting in the chronic form of this problem.
  • Intestinal parasites: Hookworms, roundworms, whipworms and other intestinal parasites can infect and reproduce the intestines of a dog. These worms can cause an intussusception to occur and it is often the chronic form.
  • Viral or bacterial infections: Some infections have been known to result in an intussusception.
  • Tumors: Just like a foreign body that causes an obstruction, some internal tumors or masses can restrict normal intestinal function. An intussusception may result from a tumor in the intestines or elsewhere within the abdomen if it is affecting the intestinal tract.
  • Dietary changes: If digestive upset occurs due to a sudden change in diet intussusception is a possibility.
  • Surgery: If surgery has been performed on the intestinal tract it may disrupt the normal activity of the intestines and cause intussusception.
  • Trauma: Major abdominal trauma, such as being hit by a car, can cause harm to the intestines. Intussusception may result.

Diagnosing Intussusception in Dogs

Intussusception can be difficult for a veterinarian to diagnose, especially if it is the chronic form. If a known cause of intussusception has occurred and other reasons for digestive upset have been ruled out, X-rays and an abdominal ultrasound may be recommended after a physical examination has been performed. Sometimes a barium contrast study is done but surgery to better visualize the intestines is usually the best way to diagnose intussusception.

Treatment of Intussusception in Dogs

Surgical correction by a veterinarian is almost always necessary to correct an intussusception. If an intussusception is not treated promptly, it can also result in further issues of the intestinal tract including restricting blood flow and causing parts of the intestines to die. If this occurs, the dead portions of the intestinal tract will need to be removed along with the correction of the intussusception..

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 things it shouldn't eat can help decrease the chances of this occurring in your dog.