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Folding of the Intestines in Dogs

Intussusception in Dogs

Intussusception is a condition characterized by inflammation and abnormal positioning of a portion of the intestines in animals. It involves the slipping out of a segment of the intestine from its usual location, as well as folding of another segment. This alteration in intestinal shape can cause the affected portion to slide into an adjacent cavity or duct within the body.

While intussusception can affect animals of all ages, it is more prevalent in younger animals with less developed immune systems. Approximately 80 percent of affected animals are younger than one year old, with dogs typically experiencing this condition at three months of age or younger. The exact cause of intussusception remains unknown. Whether partial or complete, this obstruction eventually results in a mechanical blockage of the gastrointestinal tract.

Symptoms and Types

The clinical manifestations associated with intussusception vary depending on the anatomical region affected by the condition. Intussusception occurring in the gastroesophageal regions, where the stomach and esophagus are situated, typically presents more severe signs compared to those in other regions. Known as gastroesophageal intussusception (GEI), this form is most commonly observed in German shepherd dogs.

Furthermore, total obstruction can lead to severe complications and more pronounced symptoms in affected animals. Whether partial or complete, obstruction of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract can result in hypovolemia, dehydration, and compromise of the venous and/or lymphatic systems. Prolonged obstruction may cause tissue necrosis and disruption of the normal mucosal barrier protecting the GI tract, allowing bacteria and toxins to be absorbed into the system.

Other common symptoms may include:

Intussusception occurring high in the intestinal tract:

  • Difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
  • Vomiting
  • Bloody vomit (hematemesis)
  • Regurgitation (inability to swallow food)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal distention

Intussusception occurring low in the intestinal tract:

  • Bloody diarrhea (melena)
  • Occasional vomiting
  • Loss of appetite (anorexia)
  • Weight loss
  • Straining to defecate (tenesmus)


Identifying the precise cause of intussusception can be difficult, as any condition that disrupts gastrointestinal motility has the potential to trigger it. Among the most frequent causes are: enteritis, recent abdominal surgery, intestinal mural disease, intestinal parasites, the presence of a foreign object in the tract, and intense contractions of the bowel portion of the intestine.


Your veterinarian will conduct a comprehensive physical examination of your dog, considering the history of symptoms and potential incidents that may have contributed to the condition. Given the various possible causes of intussusception, your veterinarian will likely employ differential diagnosis. This method involves a careful assessment of outward symptoms, systematically ruling out common causes until the correct disorder is identified and can be treated accordingly.

Although chronic vomiting and/or diarrhea may suggest intussusception, they do not definitively confirm the condition. Imaging techniques are often employed to visualize the intestines and identify any other potential causes. These imaging studies may reveal the presence of an object or tissue mass in the intestinal tract. Additionally, your veterinarian may opt to administer a contrast agent—a solution highlighted in X-rays—that is either injected or fed to your dog. This allows for tracking its progress through the intestinal tract, enabling the detection of any abnormal turns or obstructions.

A fecal sample will be collected to check for intestinal parasites, and electrolyte levels will be assessed. In instances of intussusception occurring high in the gastrointestinal tract, electrolyte imbalances such as hypokalemia, hypochloremia, and hyponatremia are not uncommon.


Immediate and intensive intravenous fluid therapy will be necessary if your dog is dehydrated, along with addressing any electrolyte imbalances present. Your veterinarian will prioritize stabilizing your dog and managing dehydration symptoms before proceeding with other treatment strategies. If hyponatremia is detected, your dog may receive a sodium solution as well. After any surgical intervention, it’s advisable to restrict your dog’s activity until a full recovery is achieved. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to reduce the risk of potential infections.

In cases where a foreign object is causing the obstruction or if a complete blockage is identified, surgery is required to resolve the issue. If your veterinarian suspects ulceration of the intestinal tissue due to irritation, medications may be prescribed to promote healing and prevent infection.

Living and Management

Maintaining adequate fluid intake is crucial post-surgery to prevent dehydration. Recurrence risks are highest within the initial weeks following the surgical procedure, necessitating careful monitoring during this period. Your veterinarian will provide guidance on the suitable diet for the days following surgery or treatment. Typically, small, easily digestible meals are recommended for the initial days, with a return to normal diet depending on your dog’s recovery progress and resolution of the issue.


Vaccination against parvovirus has shown promise in preventing this medical condition and others in some dogs.

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