Will A Cat Still Eat If It Has A Blockage?

Gastrointestinal (GI) obstructions are a relatively common condition in cats, which can be life-threatening if left untreated. Obstructions prevent normal digestion and bowel movements, and can cause a dangerous backup and stretching of the intestines. According to a 2001 study, over 75% of obstructions in cats occur in the colon or at the ileocecocolic junction (Selting, 2001). This article provides an overview of GI obstructions in cats – the causes, symptoms to look out for, diagnosis and treatment options, and tips on caring for a cat with an obstruction.

The goal is to educate cat owners on this condition, so they can seek timely veterinary care if their cat displays symptoms. Rapid diagnosis and treatment is key, as GI obstructions can quickly lead to shock, sepsis, and even death if the blocked intestine ruptures. Understanding the typical clinical signs, like vomiting, loss of appetite, and constipation, can help catch obstructions early. The article also covers aftercare and prevention of blockages in recovered cats.

Types of Blockages

There are several types of gastrointestinal blockages that can occur in cats:


Hairballs are clumps of hair and other debris that form in a cat’s stomach and intestines as they groom and swallow hair. They can cause obstructions if they completely block the intestinal tract. Small hairballs may pass through the intestines and be vomited up. But larger ones can get stuck and cause a blockage (Source).

Foreign Objects

Cats are notorious for swallowing foreign objects that can cause obstructions, such as string, thread, ribbons, rubber bands, tinsel, small toys or parts of toys. Linear foreign bodies are those that get lodged in the intestines and orient themselves lengthwise. These types of obstructions often require surgery (Source).


Masses or tumors growing in the gastrointestinal tract, such as polyps or cancerous growths, can also cause a blockage. These may range from benign polyps to malignant cancers. Diagnostic imaging like x-rays, ultrasound or endoscopy can help determine the location and type of mass (Source).


Cats with intestinal blockages often show symptoms like decreased appetite, vomiting, constipation, and abdominal pain. According to PetMD, vomiting is one of the most common symptoms that will cause a cat owner to bring their pet into the vet [1]. A blocked intestine prevents food and waste from properly moving through the digestive tract, resulting inPersistent vomiting is a hallmark sign of a blockage, though vomiting may be intermittent at first. Vomiting is often accompanied by a decreased appetite, as the cat feels unwell.

Constipation or absence of stools is another indicator of an intestinal blockage, as blockages prevent feces from passing normally. The cat may continually strain to defecate without success. Along with vomiting and constipation, cats with blockages frequently show signs of abdominal pain or discomfort. They may vocalize, demonstrate restlessness, hide, or exhibit aggression when the abdomen is touched or palpated due to the pain [2].


A veterinarian will perform a physical exam on a cat suspected of having a blockage. They will check for signs of pain, palpate the abdomen to feel for any obstructions, take the cat’s temperature, and assess its hydration status. Imaging tests such as X-rays or ultrasound may be used to identify the location and cause of an obstruction. Additionally, bloodwork can check for signs of infection or electrolyte imbalances.

According to PetMD, “X-rays are used to help diagnose cats with possible GI obstructions. An obstruction may show up on an X-ray as a recognizable foreign body or a narrowed intestinal lumen.”[1] Ultrasound can also be used to visualize the intestines and identify obstructions. Bloodwork can help assess kidney values, identify dehydration through elevated BUN levels, and look for increased white blood cell count indicating infection.

The physical examination in conjunction with imaging and bloodwork will allow the veterinarian to determine if a blockage is present and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

[1] https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/digestive/c_ct_gastrointestinal_obstruction


Treatment for intestinal blockages in cats usually involves hospitalization, surgery, medications, and IV fluids. According to PetMD, most intestinal blockages require surgery. The vet will perform exploratory surgery (laparotomy) under general anesthesia to locate and remove the blockage. Sometimes part of the intestines may need to be removed if the tissue is damaged or dead. After surgery, the cat will need to stay at the vet’s office for a few days to receive IV fluids, pain medication, antibiotics, and monitoring.

According to Hill’s Pet Nutrition, cats with partial intestinal blockages may be treated with just IV fluids and medication without surgery initially. However, if the cat’s condition does not improve or worsens, surgery is usually still necessary. Cats are hospitalized during initial treatment and monitored closely. Medications can include GI motility drugs to help move material through the intestines and antibiotics to prevent sepsis from a perforated intestine.

Appetite During Blockage

Many cats experience a decrease or loss of appetite when suffering from an intestinal blockage. The severity of a cat’s appetite changes often correlates with the degree of obstruction. Mild obstructions may only cause slightly reduced food intake, while complete blockages usually lead to total loss of appetite.

The location of the blockage can also impact a cat’s desire to eat. Obstructions in the small intestines tend to be more symptomatic than blockages in the large intestines. This is because the small intestine is where most nutrient absorption occurs. Blockages here can cause more abdominal pain and nausea, reducing appetite.

According to PetMD, cats recovering from major abdominal surgery related to an obstruction will sometimes refuse food even after the blockage has been removed. The inflammation and swelling of the intestines need time to heal before normal appetite returns. However, cats with partial obstructions may continue to eat small amounts, while those with complete blockages will stop eating altogether.

Diet After Blockage Treatment

After surgery to remove an intestinal blockage, vets typically recommend feeding the cat a low residue diet at first. This type of diet contains highly digestible ingredients that will not irritate the gastrointestinal tract as it heals from surgery. Low residue cat foods often contain ground or finely chopped proteins like chicken, fish, eggs, or dairy along with white rice or potatoes. Some prescription low residue cat foods may be recommended (source).

As the cat recovers, the vet will likely recommend transitioning back to the regular diet gradually over the course of a week or two. Mixing the regular food in slowly allows the digestive system to adjust. It’s important to follow the veterinarian’s instructions closely when transitioning back to a regular diet after intestinal surgery.

To help prevent future blockages, cat owners should avoid feeding stringy foods like dental floss that could get lodged in the intestines. Cats are notorious for eating non-food items, so owners need to be diligent about keeping hazardous items out of reach.


The prognosis for a cat with an intestinal blockage depends on the cause and severity of the obstruction. In general, the earlier the blockage is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome will be. According to PetMD, most cats make a complete recovery after treatment for an intestinal obstruction, especially if treated promptly.

However, certain types of obstructions and delays in treatment can lead to complications. Strictures or long-standing obstructions have a poorer prognosis compared to recent foreign body obstructions. Surgery also poses risks, including adverse reactions to anesthesia and postoperative infection. Prolonged obstruction can damage the intestines or lead to septic shock, especially if the obstruction causes perforation of the intestines. Peritonitis is another possible complication if intestinal contents leak into the abdomen.

Despite the risks, the PDSA states that most cats recover well after surgery to remove an intestinal obstruction, especially with supportive care like IV fluids and antibiotics. Close monitoring and follow-up care are important to ensure full recovery and prevent recurrence of obstructions.


There are several steps cat owners can take to help prevent intestinal blockages:

Groom your cat regularly to minimize hairballs. Daily brushing helps remove loose hair before your cat swallows it while grooming. You can also give your cat hairball remedy treats or food to help hair pass through the digestive tract (Source).

Be very careful with string, ribbon, rubber bands, and other small objects that your cat may try to eat. Keep these items out of reach and check toys to make sure they don’t have any loose parts (Source).

Feed your cat a high-quality diet designed to support digestive health. Some prescription GI foods can help regulate motility to keep things moving properly. Check with your vet for diet recommendations based on your cat’s needs (Source).

When to See a Vet

Seek emergency veterinary care if your cat has symptoms of an intestinal blockage such as vomiting, especially vomiting multiple times in a row or vomiting something they have not eaten recently like hair or foreign material (which may indicate there is an obstruction blocking the passage of food material). Vomiting that is unproductive with only liquid or yellow bile being expelled, as well as lethargy or decreased interest in food are signs of a serious blockage requiring emergency care [1]. While constipation or lack of bowel movements can be a symptom of obstruction, it may also be absent if the obstruction doesn’t cause a complete block of stool passage, so any indicators of obstruction should be treated immediately.

Even if your cat does not show any symptoms, it’s important to take them for regular vet checkups to monitor their health. At annual wellness exams, the vet will do a physical exam checking for any abnormalities in the abdomen that could indicate an obstruction. Bloodwork looking at organ function and electrolyte levels can also pick up on problems that could be related to a partial obstruction. Let your vet know if your cat has a tendency to ingest foreign material, as they may want to do precautionary imaging tests looking for potential obstructions during routine visits. Staying on top of your cat’s health with regular vet care can help catch an obstruction early before it progresses to cause a life-threatening emergency.

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