Intussusception in Dogs

Hi Nora,

My 11-month-old puppy has just had an operation for intussusception.  All my dogs are on the BARF diet.  My two older dogs have been on it since they were pups and have had no problems.  My vet said he shouldn’t go back on the raw diet as bones may have caused the problem.  Can you advise a good quality food I can give him?  I don’t want this to happen again and definitely don’t want my boy to go through it.

Your advice would be much appreciated.



Hi Sara,

I am aware of a recent study that was done in Canada involving 36 cases of intussusception in dogs and cats.  The outcome of the study was that “no common predisposing cause could be established”.  There are many theories, only ONE of which is “a foreign object in the tract”.  That seems to be the one your vet has landed on.  However, since raw bones are not “foreign” to dogs and are completely dissolvable in the stomach, this is not a likely cause.  Bones are only “foreign” or dangerous in the minds of vets, who see dogs that have gotten into cooked bones ‘accidentally’ and suffer consequent intestinal obstruction and sometimes perforation of the intestinal wall.  It is a sign that you’re dealing with a vet who is not well-versed in the true biological (dietary) needs of dogs when s/he makes no distinction between this kind of scenario and one where a dog has been fed bones properly (raw).  Since even looking at 36 cases yielded no definitive information about causes,  it seems very unlikely that your vet will be able to accurately isolate the cause of your dog’s problem as the feeding of raw bones.  In addition, although the authors of the above study seem not to have looked at diet as a predisposing factor, we can safely assume from simple statistics that intussusception is a far more common problem in commercially-fed than raw-fed dogs, just because there are so many more of the former.

To me it sounds like your vet is highly prejudiced against raw feeding, a very common problem among vets, even if s/he might have seemed supportive in the past.  Vets know that this way of feeding is becoming very popular, so they must sometimes pretend to go along with it until there is an opportunity to frighten the dog owner away from it, such as in your situation.  If you want to have a relationship with a vet in case you might need one in the future, it’s going to be very important for you to find one that is fully supportive of raw feeding and recommends it..

In addition, I don’t know how urgent your dog’s situation was but you should be aware that vets often downplay the dangers of surgery.  In the above study, for example, 3 of the 14 dogs who had surgery to treat their intussception died from “surgical complications”.  That’s a little more than 1 in 5, which are considered enormously unfavorable odds.  In addition, the recurrence rate for intussception is estimated at 3-25% (Merck Veterinary Manual), and may even be higher for dogs who have undergone the surgery.

The most probable cause of intussusception is misfeeding.  Mistakes that lead to these kinds of problems are common even among BARF feeders.  Since it’s highly unlikely that your dog’s intussception was caused by bones, your vet’s recommendation that you feed commercial foods from now on will not be helpful.  In fact, not only will doing so NOT prevent recurrence of the problem, it will create many more.  Only proper feeding can prevent disease, and full instructions for feeding in a way that prevents most (if not all) illness are outlined in my e-book.  For $20, you can avoid very costly situations like this happening again in the future.

Best wishes,


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