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Fiona and the Mysterious Foreign Body

Reviewed by Bill Saxon DVM, DACVIM, DACVECC on Thursday, July 14, 2016
Posted July 14, 2016 in Cat Surgery A-Z

cat and boy

Nikki Schneck, a veterinary technician near Pottsville, PA, contributed to this article.

Fiona, a beautiful and super sweet one-year-old cat, had been vomiting 3 to 4 times per day for 3 days in a row. On the 3rd day, she was not doing well, had no appetite, felt lethargic and was crying out in pain. Fiona went to her family vet where X-ray results caused suspicion of a foreign body, i.e. an object that she could have swallowed.

Fiona was referred to the local emergency clinic. The emergency vet noted a painful belly during her exam. She repeated X-rays, and also suspected a foreign body. That’s when the emergency veterinarian asked me to perform belly surgery on Fiona.

Fiona’s belly surgery
During the exploratory surgery, I looked thoroughly at every organ in the belly, and felt the stomach and entire intestine multiple times. I found no sign of a foreign body! We were facing what we call a “negative exploratory surgery.” Rather than closing Fiona’s belly, I did something extremely important. I took biopsies of multiple organs:

  • Liver
  • Lymph node
  • Stomach
  • Several levels of the small intestine

Fiona recovered smoothly after anesthesia and surgery. She went home the next day. She needed pain medications and antibiotics, as well as strict rest and a plastic cone around her head to prevent licking at the incision.

Fiona’s biopsy result
One week later, biopsies revealed not one, but two conditions! First, Fiona had Helicobacter in her stomach. This is a normal bacteria in a cat’s stomach, but it is a bit controversial. We’re not sure how significant it is in pets. This is very different from humans, where Helicobacter can cause serious irritation and even stomach cancer.

IBD in Fiona
In addition, Fiona had Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in her small intestine. IBD is a very common condition in both cats and dogs, and it needs to be treated. It is usually found in middle-aged pets, so it was unusual (but not unheard of) to diagnose it in a one-year-old kitty.

Three weeks after surgery, Fiona came back for her progress exam and suture removal. She was eating, drinking, happy and purring. Everything was back to normal. Her family vet had started her on a special diet for IBD, which she should be fed exclusively for life. The idea is to prevent exposure to other types of food that might cause a flare up of the IBD.

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at, and follow him at