What are Intestinal Foreign Bodies in Cats?
What is it?
How is it Treated?
Cats have no specific breed predisposed to intestinal foreign bodies, as it can occur in any cat that ingests non-food items.
It all began when Lucy noticed that her normally energetic and playful cat, Whiskers, was lethargic and had a loss of appetite. Worried about her feline companion, Lucy took Whiskers to the veterinarian, hoping it was nothing more than a temporary upset stomach. Much to her dismay, Whiskers was diagnosed with intestinal foreign bodies, a potentially dangerous condition that Lucy had never encountered before.
Intestinal Foreign Bodies (IFB) in cats are objects or materials ingested and lodged in the intestines. These materials may be food items, hair, fur, fabric, thread, string, plastic, metal or other materials. Intestinal foreign bodies can cause a variety of digestive disturbances in cats, including vomiting and diarrhea.
Sometimes, the foreign body can pass through the cat’s intestines without issue. However, in other cases, the foreign body may become lodged or entrapped in the intestine and cause an obstruction leading to a potentially life-threatening condition. Obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract by an intestinal foreign body can reduce blood supply to sections of the intestine resulting in an area of necrotic tissue that, due to severe pain, can render a cat immobile for many hours.
Causes of Intestinal Foreign Bodies in Cats
Intestinal Foreign Bodies (IFB) in cats is a prevalent condition that can cause serious health problems if not detected and treated early. The leading causes of IFB in cats are ingesting foreign objects, such as string, yarn, carpet fiber and small toys, environmental toxins or parasites/parasitic larvae.
Ingestion of foreign objects accounts for nearly 30% of the IFB cases in cats. Often these items are passed through the intestines without any problem, but some can form blockages in the digestive tract leading to life-threatening conditions. In addition, cats may swallow these objects out of curiosity, boredom or hunger and are especially prone to picking up small items such as yarn, string and ribbon while playing. As they chew these items, they can become tangled around their tongue or throat or even pass into their stomachs, which can be dangerous if ingested.
In addition to ingesting foreign objects, environmental toxins can also be a source of IFB in cats. These include poisons or hazardous substances found in the home, such as rodenticides and pesticides. While industrial cleaners and solvents should generally not be accessible to cats, accidental ingestion can still occur through contact with poisoned animals or contaminated food sources. External Parasites/parasitic larvae can also cause intestinal blockages in cats either through direct ingestion, as when a tick carrying parasitic larvae is eaten by a cat, or by indirect means, such as hatching eggs inside a cat’s intestine.
There are several different types of IFBs, each with its causes. Some common ones include:
- Coins: Coins can become lodged in the cat’s stomach due to chewing habits.
- Bones: Bones can become stuck in the cat’s esophagus or intestines during playtime.
- Toys: Toys can become lodged in the esophagus or intestines’ thoracic surgery.
- Hairballs: Hairballs can form inside the cat’s stomach due to biting behavior.
- Other Objects: Various objects can become lodged in the intestine, including food wrappers, plastic bags, and paper towels.
Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Foreign Bodies in Felines
Here are some clinical signs of intestinal tract foreign bodies in dogs and cats:
- Abdominal pain
- lack of appetite
- Difficulty breathing
- Blood in stool
- Unexplained weight loss
How Do Veterinarians Diagnose Intestinal Foreign Bodies in Cats?
To diagnose intestinal foreign bodies, veterinarians typically perform a physical examination, x-rays, endoscopy, ultrasound, enterotomy, radiograph, and fecal tests. Once the object has been located, it needs to be removed surgically.
X-rays detect foreign bodies in the intestines, and an ultrasound is often performed to confirm the presence of a foreign object. An endoscope (colonoscopy) is another diagnostic tool to find gastrointestinal obstruction. This procedure involves inserting a thin tube through the mouth and down the esophagus into the stomach.
Once inside the stomach or intestines, the vet uses a light source to illuminate the interior lining of the digestive tract. Then they look at the illuminated area with a video camera attached to the endoscope.
How to Treat Intestinal Foreign Bodies in Cats?
Treatment options for intestinal or stomach foreign bodies vary depending on their size, shape, location, and type. For example, small and large objects like coins usually do not require surgery. However, surgical intervention should be performed immediately if the object is large enough to obstruct the intestines.
Approximately half of the foreign bodies found in cats requiring surgery are linear foreign bodies. For small objects, endoscopic techniques can be used. Endoscopy removal involves inserting a thin tube with a light source at one end and a camera at the other. This allows the vet to see inside the pet’s digestive system. A flexible scope called a gastroscope is inserted through the mouth and advanced down the esophagus until it reaches the duodenum. Once there, the content is removed, and the object is retrieved from the patient’s stomach.
For larger objects, laparotomy is required. Laparotomy means opening up the abdominal cavity. The surgeon removes the thing and closes the incision site during this procedure. The stomach rarely leaks after FB removal, but the risk of the intestines revealing after being opened or after a section is removed is approximately 5-15%.
How to Prevent Intestinal Foreign Body Ingestion in Cats
- Keep your cat indoors. This will help him avoid ingesting things that might harm his health. It would be best to keep your cat from chewing objects such as plastic bags, rubber bands, paper clips, etc., which can quickly become lodged in its intestines.
- Make sure your cat eats only healthy food. For example, fiber foods tend to make hairballs less likely to occur. Also, foods rich in protein and fat will help your cat maintain proper weight.
- Be aware of what your cat likes to eat. For example, some cats love crunchy treats, while others prefer softer ones. It’s best to feed them whatever they enjoy so they don’t feel pressured to eat a particular food.
- Clean out your cat’s litter box regularly. This will help remove hairballs and other debris that can get stuck in your cat’s intestines.
- Take your cat to the vet if they begin vomiting after eating to rule out other causes. Then, your vet can determine whether something is wrong with your cat’s gastrointestinal system.
Frequently Asked Questions
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