Abdominal Exploratory in Dogs
Dr. Cathy Reese
A thorough medical history is an important part of diagnosis. Your veterinarian will ask you many questions regarding the development and progression of the problem. Your pet's attitude, appetite, drinking and elimination habits are important things to discuss with your veterinarian. You should mention if your pet has been vomiting, has had diarrhea, coughing, or difficulty breathing. If any tests have been done by other veterinarians, then you should bring these results to your veterinarian's attention.
Physical exam. Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam, listen to your pet's heart and lungs and palpate (feel) your pet's abdomen. Abdominal palpation can identify some abdominal masses or fluid in the abdomen, and if your pet is painful during abdominal palpation, it may indicate a problem. Your pet's temperature will be taken to check for fever. A rectal examination is done to check for blood in the feces and for rectal masses.
Blood and urine tests. Blood tests are submitted to evaluate the white blood cell count, which is usually elevated with an infection. The number of red blood cells is checked, too, to look for anemia. The function of the kidneys is evaluated through testing the blood, as well as the urine. The function of the liver is checked through blood tests. The levels of all of the body's electrolytes are also checked to see if intravenous fluid therapy is necessary to fix any abnormalities. All of these tests are important in determining which organ is causing your pet's illness and to see if the pet is stable for anesthesia.
Radiographs (X-rays). Radiographs of the abdomen can help identify a problem that may require exploratory surgery. It is sometimes difficult to determine with 100 percent accuracy the exact problem on radiographs alone, but there is often enough information that a recommendation can be made for an exploratory surgery. Masses or tumors in the abdomen can often be seen on radiographs, depending on their size and location. Foreign bodies in the intestinal tract can obstruct the flow of food and liquid and create a typical pattern seen on radiographs. Tears in the abdominal muscles or diaphragm can allow organs to protrude out of the abdominal cavity and become a hernia, which is often seen on radiographs. Ruptures of the intestinal tract or abscesses in any organ can produce gas or air inside the abdominal cavity, which can often be seen on radiographs.
Ultrasound. Sometimes an abdominal ultrasound is necessary to help decide if there is a problem in the abdomen that requires surgery. An ultrasound can help identify tumors in an organ, stones in the gall bladder, kidneys, ureters, or urinary bladder, foreign bodies in the stomach or intestinal tract, hernias in the abdominal wall or diaphragm, and fluid in the abdomen. Ultrasound can also tell if the consistency of the organ is abnormal (too dense or too thick). This may indicate the need for a biopsy of the organ, which is often done during an exploratory surgery.
Computed tomography (CT scan or "CAT" scan). CT scans are uncommonly used to help identify abdominal problems in animals, as opposed to their frequent use in humans. CT scans must be done on a perfectly still patient, so your pet will require general anesthesia. The tests are somewhat time consuming and are not cost effective for most hospitals or owners to use regularly. They are used in certain cases at the discretion of the veterinarian.