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Intussusception and Internal Parasites

Reviewed by Peter Kintzer DVM, DACVIM on Thursday, April 17, 2014
Posted April 17, 2014 in Dog Diseases & Conditions A-Z

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. His website is He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (

Kelly Serfas, a Certified Veterinary Technician in Bethlehem, PA, contributed to this article.

Ms. Roxbury had just rescued a 6 month old kitten from her neighbor. She named her Firefly. She was absolutely in love with Firefly, especially because she had to say goodbye to her 15-year-old cat a few months prior.

Firefly was a sweet, active, young kitten. A few weeks after Ms. Roxbury brought Firefly home, she began to notice some vomiting and diarrhea. Ms. Roxbury was not very concerned. “It’s just a hairball,” she thought. The diarrhea also did not worry her much because she had recently switched Firefly's food. However, after two days, she realized that Firefly was not eating and did not seem to be her playful self.

Ms. Roxbury knew something was wrong and scheduled an appointment with her family veterinarian that day. The veterinarian did a complete physical examination and felt a thickening of the intestine.  In a curious kitten, it was logical to believe that it could be compatible with a foreign body—such as a toy.
Blood work revealed anemia (a low red blood cell count) and a low protein level.

The vet reviewed belly X-rays with Ms. Roxbury.  They were suggestive of a blockage in the small intestine. The next logical step was to get an ultrasound of the belly to confirm the suspicion of a foreign body.

White KittenTo everybody’s surprise, there was no foreign object. The ultrasound revealed that Firefly had an intussusception.

“Intu-what?" An intussusception is a rare but potentially deadly condition where one piece of intestine slides or telescopes inside another—like a sock. The treatment involves emergency surgery, hopefully, before that portion of intestine dies and causes leakage into the belly.

What causes intussusception?
Intussusception is caused by excessive motion in the intestine (i.e., peristalsis) which is overstimulated by a foreign body (such as a string), intestinal parasites, a tumor, irritation of the intestine or a viral infection. In some cases, we never find the cause. The breeds most often affected are the German shepherd and the Siamese cat.

How do you treat intussusception?
The veterinarian discussed surgery with Ms. Roxbury, who elected to proceed with it. Open abdominal surgery confirmed the diagnosis of intussusception.  A five

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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