Lack of Intestinal Motility in Cats

By PetMD Editorial on Mar. 26, 2010

Ileus in Cats


The term ileus (functional or paralytic) is used to denote temporary and reversible blockages in the intestines due to the absence of bowel motility. This absence of normal intestinal movements (or peristalsis) results in accumulation of intestinal contents in certain areas of intestine. It should be remembered that ileus itself is not a primary disease in cats, but a complication seen due to some other disease or condition affecting normal motility of the intestines.


Symptoms and Types


  • Loss of appetite (anorexia)
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Mild abdominal distention or discomfort due to gas accumulation due to obstruction



  • After gastrointestinal surgery
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Infections and inflammatory diseases of gastrointestinal tract
  • Persisting mechanical obstruction (e.g., foreign body in GI tract)
  • Blockages of blood supply to intestine or part of intestine
  • Septicemia (body wide illness due to presence of bacteria in blood) due to gram negative bacteria
  • Shock
  • Abdominal injury
  • Distention of intestines due to aerophagia or excessive burping or belching
  • After use of certain drugs
  • Toxicity (e.g., lead)



After recording a detailed history and performing a complete physical examination, routine laboratory tests will be conducted. These tests include complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis. The main objective of the diagnostic effort is to find the underlying cause of this problem. Results of routine laboratory testing may reveal some information related to the underlying disease. Abdominal X-rays and ultrasound will help in finding various abnormalities including: presence of gas, fluid, mechanical obstruction (e.g., foreign body), tumor in abdomen, and other such conditions.


For confirmation, your veterinarian may use more specific testing like Barium-Impregnated Polyethylene Spheres (BIPS). Barium is a chemical used in certain radiological studies to enhance visualization of anatomical structures. BIPS are markers given orally and will demonstrate the extent of intestinal obstruction and motility disorder. Your veterinarian will assess the time it takes for these markers to move along the intestines and how much delay is involved. This test also helps in the localization of the anatomical site involved.

Endoscopy is also an option for diagnosis, especially for an assessment of mechanical obstruction. Your veterinarian will look directly into the stomach and intestine using an instrument called an endoscope. A rigid or flexible tube will be inserted into your cat’s stomach, where your veterinarian will be able to visually inspect and take pictures. In some cases, exploratory surgery may need to be performed to rule out mechanical obstruction. X-ray, computed tomography scan, magnetic imaging test, and analysis of cerebrospinal fluid (fluid circulate around brain and spinal cord) may be required in patients in whom spinal cord injury is suspected.



As ileus is the result of some other underlying disease, treating the underlying cause is of utmost importance for resolution of this problem. For example, your veterinarian will use fluid therapy to address fluid and electrolyte derangements, which is common in cats with ileus. In some cats, drugs to enhance intestinal motility are also given to stimulate intestinal movements. During treatment, your veterinarian will use a stethoscope to listen to the abdomen in order to find the status gut sounds and motility.


Living and Management


If the primary underlying cause is identified and corrected, the prognosis is excellent in affected animals. But determining the exact underlying cause may be difficult in some animals. Follow directions given by your veterinarian regarding care and nutrition of your cat, and call your veterinarian immediately if you see any untoward symptom in your cat.


In patients with a history of infections, regular temperature monitoring may be required at home. If medicines are prescribed for your cat, strictly follow the exact frequency and dosage of each drug. In addition, do not stop or alter treatment prior to consulting with your veterinarian.

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