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What is endoscopy for pets, and why is it important?

Endoscopy aims to identify the internal condition causing symptoms such as loss of appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea in pets. Here, our Lacey emergency pet vets discuss endoscopy in dogs and cats and how they are performed in veterinary diagnostic labs.

The Endoscope Procedure

An endoscope is a long, flexible, or rigid fiber-optic tube with a video camera attached to the tip. A veterinarian inserts this imaging device into your cat or dog's mouth or rectum to view the esophagus, stomach, and upper part of the small intestine or colon in full color. 

The captured video is then transmitted to a special computer in real-time, allowing your vet to guide the endoscope where needed during an internal exam of your pet's body.

Instruments such as grabbing forceps may be passed through the tube to perform object removal or biopsy procedures. An endoscopy is usually considered less invasive than a surgical procedure. 

Unfortunately, there are some places in the body that an endoscope cannot reach. If this is true for your pet's situation, your veterinarian will recommend an alternative treatment plan. 

What are the different types of endoscopy procedures?

Depending on your cat or dog's symptoms, a vet may order a specific endoscopic procedure. Here is a little more information about each:

Flexible Endoscopy 

  • Bronchoscopy - An exam of the lower airways 
  • Colonoscopy - An examination of the colon, large bowel, and rectum
  • Endoscopy - An exam of the stomach, esophagus, and upper intestines 

Rigid Endoscopy 

  • Arthroscopy - An exam of joint cartilage and soft tissue structures (which are not visible on X-rays) 
  • Cystoscopy - An examination of the urethral opening, urethra, bladder, ureteral openings, and vagina 
  • Laparoscopy - An exam of the abdominal cavity performed through a small incision in the wall of the abdomen or through the naval. This will allow your vet to obtain biopsy samples from the kidney and liver. 
  • Proctoscopy - An exam of the rectum and large bowel 
  • Rhinoscopy - An exam of the nasal cavity and nasopharynx (junction between the nasal area and back of the throat). 
  • Thoracoscopy - An examination of the chest cavity. This is currently not frequently performed on pets.  

What is the purpose of an endoscopy?

If your veterinarian needs to visually examine your dog or cat's gastrointestinal tract and other organs without performing invasive surgery, an endoscopy will allow them to do this. The procedure can help identify whether a foreign object might be stuck in your pet's body. It can also diagnose abnormal cells, inflammation, tumors, or esophageal strictures (a band of scar tissue that causes a narrowing of the esophagus, making swallowing difficult, especially with solid foods). 

Some of these may not be visible on traditional X-rays or ultrasounds, which means without an endoscopy, the underlying cause of illness or injury may not be identified, and your veterinarian would not be able to make an accurate diagnosis

What happens during an endoscopy?

Before a gastrointestinal endoscopy, your pet must not have any feces or foods in their stomach. Depending on the area your vet plans to examine with the endoscope, your pet must fast for 12 to 18 hours to clear its system. At least one enema may be needed before the procedure. 

Since an endoscopy allows your vet to thoroughly examine the stomach, esophagus, intestinal tract, and/or colon, your pet will be sedated during the procedure. The endoscope will be inserted through the mouth or rectum into your pet's stomach or intestinal tract and then gently pushed forward to allow the vet to see the area. 

Your veterinarian can take precise biopsy samples from abnormal areas during the procedure. These samples consist of tiny pieces of tissue cut from the organ's lining by the biopsy instrument.

If a biopsy is required or your vet needs to remove a foreign object, grabbing forceps may be passed through the endoscope to perform this procedure. 

What is the cost of endoscopies for pets?

The cost of your pet’s endoscopy can vary depending on the veterinarian performing the procedure and any additional services or medications required.

How long is an endoscopy?

The duration of this procedure can vary depending on the specific procedure being performed and the condition of the individual cat or dog. However, on average, it takes 15 to 30 minutes to complete. However, this is only a portion of their entire visit.

When will you get the results from your pet's procedure?

Because your veterinarian can examine your pet's organs in real time, you and your vet will see the exam outcome immediately. However, a pathologist usually examines biopsies to make a final diagnosis. Depending on the circumstances, this may take up to a week. 

What conditions can be diagnosed using endoscopy?

An endoscopy allows your veterinarian to detect abnormalities such as:

  • Inflammation
  • Abnormal abdominal swelling due to tumors, intestinal blockage, or accumulation of fluid 
  • Inflammatory bowel disease 
  • Gastrointestinal foreign bodies such as hairballs, rocks, sticks, coins, or others

How Endoscopy Can Be Used to Detect Cancer 

Your veterinarian can often use an endoscope to diagnose gastrointestinal cancer. However, some tumors do not affect the stomach or colon mucosa (the inner lining of the colon and rectum).

The biopsy results are normal in these cases, but the pet exhibits clinical signs. Biopsies taken during exploratory surgery (exploratory laparotomy) or non-invasive tests, such as an MRI, may be necessary.

What to Expect As Your Pet Recovers From an Endoscopy

Most pets recover quickly and easily after an endoscopy. Your pet should be released shortly following the procedure. Once your pet is awake and responding to treatment, he should be able to return home for rest.

Depending on the purpose of the endoscopy, your pet may be able to resume play and eating almost immediately. The pathology report could take up to a week if the endoscopy involves a biopsy. If the endoscopy is for discovery, your veterinarian will discuss the next steps and options. Suppose the procedure was to locate and remove a foreign object. In that case, you and your pet should be able to return to normal activities immediately after the endoscopy and recovery from anesthesia.

A dog or cat endoscopy may cause temporary side effects, such as discomfort, mild bleeding, or irritation at the procedure site. Follow your veterinarian's post-procedure care instructions to reduce the risk of complications.

If your pet has been prescribed medications for treatment or recovery, visit our veterinary pharmacy. We are stocked with a range of medications, allowing you to easily pick up your pet's medication when needed.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your cat or dog showing concerning signs or symptoms? Contact our emergency vets at Olympia Pet Emergency today. We have a fully equipped veterinary diagnostics laboratory to help us address your pet's condition quickly.

Walk-in Patients Welcome

At Olympia Pet Emergency, you can always access our full complement of emergency services without an appointment. We treat both walk-in patients and referrals for urgent veterinary care.

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