Intestinal blockage is a fairly common condition among cats. Not only is it painful, but it can also be potentially fatal. Curious creatures that they are, cats, especially younger ones, often get into trouble by consuming indigestible objects that don’t have a business being in their bodies.
From cooked animal bones that can splinter to small household objects, many things can cause intestinal blockage in cats. It could also happen due to un-expelled hairballs from grooming, tumors, hernias, polyps, or other medical issues.
Learning how to spot the symptoms of intestinal blockage in cats can save our furry friends (and us) a lot of pain, and even mean the difference between life and death for them.
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Symptoms of Intestinal Blockage in Cats Overview
Symptoms of intestinal blockage in cats can vary between subtle and severe, depending on the location and severity of the blockage.
Those symptoms are diarrhea or constipation, vomiting, dehydration, loss of appetite, weight loss, lethargy, cold body temperature or fever, abdominal swelling and pain, pain and changed behavior, and/or a string/object protruding from the cat’s mouth or rectum.
Symptoms Suggesting Intestinal Blockage in Cats
An intestinal blockage will prevent food, fluids, nutrients, and secretions from moving normally through your cat’s gastrointestinal tract. In severe cases, the blockage could cause poor blood circulation to the bowels, leading to shock, tissue death, and possibly life-threatening infection.
That’s why it’s vital to spot an intestinal blockage very quickly. If you think your furry friend might be displaying any of the following common symptoms of intestinal blockage, take her to a vet right away.
Diarrhea or Constipation
If there’s a partial intestinal blockage, your cat may experience diarrhea or unusual bowel movements. However, cats may also get diarrhea simply due to eating something they’re not used to, making it difficult to tell what’s going on.
It’s always best to err on the side of caution and see the vet. If the blockage is complete, your cat may not be able to defecate or even pass gas.
It isn’t unusual for a cat to throw up every now and then, especially after eating too quickly or eating indigestible items, or as the result of hairballs caused by grooming.
However, if she’s vomiting or retching often, especially after eating. Or, if the vomiting is accompanied by other symptoms, it could point to something more serious like an intestinal blockage.
The vomiting will be intermittent if there’s a partial blockage and will be more frequent and continuous if it’s a complete blockage. The vomiting may be projectile if the blockage is in the upper small intestines, and maybe brown and fecal-smelling if it’s in the lower gastrointestinal tract.
Prolonged vomiting and diarrhea can result in dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Excessive loss of fluids means loss of essential minerals in your cat’s body like chloride, sodium, and potassium. Skin tenting is a good test to help you tell if she’s dehydrated.
Gently pinch a small amount of skin around your cat’s shoulders, pull it up, then let go. The skin will snap back into place quickly if your cat is hydrated, will fall back down slowly if she’s dehydrated, and will stay up in a tent position if she’s severely dehydrated.
Loss of Appetite
Always have your cat checked if her appetite changes and if she stops grazing throughout the day. Refusal to eat is usually one of the first signs of intestinal blockage and maybe cause for concern, especially if accompanied by other symptoms. Cats are also at risk of a liver condition called hepatic lipidosis if they’re under-nourished.
A cat suffering intestinal blockage will continue to lose weight and get weaker because of appetite loss. The blockage also restricts the flow of much-needed nutrients and other substances to her body.
If your cat seems weak, sluggish, quieter than usual, less interested in food, or sleeping more than usual, it could be a sign that something’s wrong.
Lethargy is a symptom of many problems, some minor and some major, including kidney disease, diabetes, or poisoning. Contact your vet if your cat has been lethargic for over 24 hours or if she’s severely lethargic.
Cold Body Temperature or Fever
Use a pediatric rectal thermometer or digital thermometer to measure your cat’s temperature. A cat’s normal body temperature ranges between 37.7–39.2C or 100–102.5F. Although fevers are helpful in fighting disease, a fever higher than 106F can damage organs.
A cat with a fever may act listless, shiver, breathe rapidly, hide, be depressed, or stop eating. A cat with low body temperature or hypothermia will start shivering; the condition may become severe, resulting in slow blood flow and a decreased heart rate.
Abdominal Swelling and Pain
Abdominal swelling with pain and tenderness can be a sign of intestinal blockage in cats. A swollen belly may also be due to several conditions, such as organ enlargement, fluid in her belly, intestinal parasites, liver damage, congestive heart failure, abdominal bleeding, or abdominal cancer.
A urine analysis may rule out other causes of symptoms; an abdominal ultrasound may reveal a foreign body in your cat’s stomach or intestines.
Pain and Changed Behavior
Your cat may show signs of distress and pain by refusing to lie down, sitting in a hunched position, straining, whimpering, crying, or seeming depressed. She may also show other signs of feeling sick like drooling, lip-smacking, or swallowing.
String/Object Protruding From Mouth or Rectum
This is a sure way to tell your cat has swallowed something she shouldn’t. She may paw at her face or mouth if there’s a string wrapped around the base of her tongue. Never try to remove a lodged object yourself, and take her to the vet right away.
In a Nutshell
Help your cat live a healthy, full life by preventing intestinal blockage. Keep her away from your food and other tempting objects, and discourage her from chewing and eating any indigestible items.
Knowing the symptoms of intestinal blockage in cats could help save your pet’s life. Blockages can be very serious, so the sooner you see your vet at the first sign of trouble, the better the prognosis for your cat.
I’ve been living with cats since 2008 and I can confidently say I have more feline friends than humans lol. I currently live with 5 cats in different life stages; two of them are less than one year old, one is 2-ish years old and the oldest two are 9-ish years old. I’ve developed a strong bond with cats over the years and I’m eager to share my experience through this blog. You can learn more about my cats here.