Intestinal intussusception is a life threatening condition, but if caught early, most effected dogs make a full recovery with proper treatment.
An intussusception of the intestines occurs when one section of intestine telescopes around another section of intestine. In dogs, the most common location where this happens is in the area where the small intestine joins the large intestine. The intestine is blocked in the area of the intussusception and it is not possible for the contents of the gastrointestinal tract to move through the blocked area. In addition to preventing material from passing through the area, the pressure produced by the twisting of the intestine around itself will often cut off blood flow to the effected area. This loss of blood flow may cause tissue death and, eventually, rupture of the effected section of intestine leading to leakage of intestinal contents into the abdomen.
Intussusceptions are more common in young dogs than old, though dogs of any age may be effected. Conditions which may be predisposing include: heavy parasite burden, prior intestinal surgery or abdominal tumours. Frequently the condition is idiopathic, which means there is no obvious cause
Initially, a dog with an intussusception of the intestines will appear to have an upset stomach. The dog may refuse to eat, or, if it does eat, it will vomit shortly after eating. The dog will be painful when its abdomen is palpated. Diarrhea may or may not be present. If the intussusception progresses to intestinal rupture, the dog will be extremely painful in the abdomen, have a high body temperature and worsen rapidly. Without prompt surgical treatment, a ruptured intussusception can quickly result in death.
It is not possible to diagnose an intussusception on the basis of symptoms alone. Many dogs that show symptoms that are consistent with an intussuception actually are suffering from something else, such as enteritis (inflammation of the intestines) or gastritis (inflammation of the stomach). An intestinal foreign body can also cause symptoms that are indistinguishable from an intussusception. It is sometimes possible to feel the telescoped area of intestine on abdominal palpation, but frequently either an ultrasound or X-ray is needed to obtain a definitive diagnosis.
Occasionally an intussusception will resolve on its own, but more often surgical treatment is required. The abdomen is opened and the effected area of intestine is located. The telescoping of the intestine is corrected manually and the condition of effected section of intestine is assessed. If the intestine where the intussusception occurred appears to be non-viable, the unhealthy section of intestine will be removed.
After surgery, the dog will be hospitalized on intravenous fluids and antibiotics for several days. Only small amounts of food or a liquid diet may be fed for the first several days in order to give the intestine time to recover.