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Abdominal Exploratory in Dogs

By: Dr. Cathy Reese

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An abdominal exploratory surgery refers to almost every non-specific surgery of the abdomen. They are defined as exploratory because every organ in the abdomen is inspected for abnormalities and treated if necessary.

Abdominal exploratory surgery is sometimes necessary to collect biopsy material, remove a tumor from the spleen or other organ, repair a hernia, or evaluate bite or gunshot wounds to see if organs were penetrated and injured.

Any animal with a problem that can be related to an abdominal organ may require an exploratory surgery of the abdomen.

Possible Candidates

  • Animals with vomiting or diarrhea
  • Animals that have ingested a foreign body
  • Animals with tumors in any abdominal organ
  • Animals with bite and gunshot wounds that penetrate the abdomen which may have caused injury to internal organs
  • Animals with a hernia
  • Animals that have other nonspecific signs of illness in combination with other test results that may indicate a problem with an abdominal organ

    Diagnosis

  • Your veterinarian will ask you many questions to develop a complete history of the progression of the problem. These questions will include: what symptoms have you noticed, how long have they been going on, what treatments have you tried and with what results, what does your dog eat, how are your dog's appetite and drinking habits, has your dog been vomiting or having diarrhea, has your dog ingested anything it shouldn't have, has your dog been bright and alert or depressed and lethargic?

  • Your veterinarian will also examine your dog completely, including checking for a fever, listening to the heart and lungs, and palpating or feeling your dog's abdomen to check for pain, masses, or fluid accumulation. A rectal examination is also necessary to check for rectal bleeding and masses in the rectum.

  • Blood tests are submitted to look for anemia and abnormal white cell counts, which could indicate the presence of an infection. These tests will also identify abnormalities in kidney or liver function, which may help identify which organ is causing your dog's illness. Electrolyte levels are also checked, since they can become abnormal during times of illness and may need to be fixed using intravenous fluids. The urine is tested for signs of infection and to check the function of the kidneys.

  • Your veterinarian may recommend other tests to try to identify the problem in your dog's abdomen. These can include an abdominal tap in which a needle is inserted to draw fluid out of the abdomen for analysis, if any fluid is present. Saline can be injected into the abdomen and then drawn out if there isn't any fluid already in the abdomen – known as a diagnostic abdominal lavage. Your veterinarian amy also order X-rays of the abdomen or an abdominal ultrasound and more advanced tests, such as computed tomography (CT scan or CAT scan), MRI, or endoscopy, using a fiberoptic scope to examine the inside of the stomach and intestinal tract.

    Treatment

  • Your veterinarian may recommend an abdominal exploratory surgery for therapeutic reasons to remove a foreign body or tumor, or for diagnostic purposes to obtain biopsies of organs that are suspected to be abnormal.

  • If your veterinarian was expecting to find a foreign body in the intestines but did not, then the surgery is often termed a negative exploratory, meaning nothing obviously abnormal was found. However, the disease can be microscopic and not readily apparent, so biopsies are taken to try to identify the animal's disease.

    Home Care and Prevention

    After abdominal exploratory surgery, the pet should be rested and restricted from activity for about two weeks to allow the incision to heal. If your pet licks or chews at the incision, an Elizabethan collar may be necessary to keep her from opening or infecting the incision.

    Depending on what was found at surgery or in the results of the biopsy, your veterinarian may recommend more specific treatment.

    Be familiar with your pet's normal eating, drinking and elimination habits. If you notice any abnormal behavior, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, or anything that concerns you, contact your veterinarian.

    Follow your veterinarian's instructions closely to get the best results.

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