Intussusception Symptoms in Dogs

Intussusception is a condition which causes a portion of the intestine to slide inside of itself, leading to severe pain, a decrease in blood supply to the area and damage to the surrounding tissues. This condition is uncommon, but can happen to dogs of any age or breed. It is more common in young dogs, but may result from tumors in older dogs. Intussusception may happen quickly and can become fatal if not treated properly and immediately.


Many causes of intussusception are unknown, but there are several scenarios that can increase chances for the condition to occur. Dogs that have an infection or are experiencing inflammation of the intestinal tract may be at a higher risk. Additionally, intestinal parasites or another mass that has formed in the area can cause the intestines to slip and narrow the pathway considerably, leading to intussusception. If a dog has had prior intestinal surgery for any reason, this can also elevate the risk.

Signs and Symptoms

It may be difficult to differentiate the signs of intussusception from other abdominal and intestinal problems. Likewise, the degree of progression and severity of symptoms will vary greatly, depending upon the location and intensity of the problem. Symptoms that may indicate intussusception include the following:

  • Vomiting, including vomiting of blood
  • Loss of appetite or changes to eating behavior
  • Loss of weight
  • Diarrhea
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Signs of shock
  • Collapse

Testing and Diagnosis

It's important to run many tests when these symptoms occur to discover the true nature of the problem. In order to help rule out intussusception, several different tests will be necessary. A complete physical examination may reveal a mass in the abdominal area, and complete blood count, biochemical profile and analysis of urine and fecal matter will likely follow. More detailed tests will also be run and these could include the following:

  • X-rays of the abdomen and intestinal tract
  • Ultrasound
  • Barium study
  • Endoscopy
  • Surgical exploration

Treatment Options

Because of the serious nature of intussusception, treatment is often fast and aggressive. The most important thing is to stabilize the dog by adding intravenous fluids, if necessary, and restoring electrolyte levels. Treatment will likely be surgical, and the type of surgery depends upon the location of the problem and how severely it's affecting the dog. Possibilities and potential for recovery will also be discussed when deciding options for surgical treatment. If possible, the intestines will be repositioned to relieve the pressure and prevent further damage. If necessary, the affected portion of the intestine will be tacked onto itself to prevent further symptoms. If there is significant damage already to the area, a portion of the intestines may need to be removed.

Considerations and After-Care

When intussusception occurs, food and water must be held until around 24 hours after surgery, or after you are sure vomiting has stopped. A particular diet may be recommended during the recovery period, and this food should be introduced slowly so as not to cause further damage or symptoms. The dog must be monitored closely in case of any relapse, and antibiotic injections may be given to prevent secondary infection.