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What is a Gastric Lavage?

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Gastric lavage is a term that refers to a procedure for "pumping the stomach".

It consists of a procedure where a tube is placed into the mouth, through the esophagus and into the stomach and the contents are pumped out. Generally water is pumped in and the stomach is "rinsed out" (lavaged).

This test procedure can be used to decompress a stomach distended due to gluttony bloat (over eating) or bloat (from the stomach twisting). It is commonly used to remove the contents of the stomach after a toxin ingestion. Eliminating the toxin from the stomach prevents is absorption and toxic effects.

How Is a Gastric Lavage Done?

After being placed under general anesthesia, an endotracheal (breathing) tube is placed in the trachea. The gastric lavage is generally done by gently passing a flexible plastic tube into the mouth, down the esophagus and into the stomach.

A small hand pump is often used that allows water to be "pumped" into the stomach after which the contents is allow to drain back out of the stomach – through the tube and out of the body. This procedure of "pumping" or "lavaging" the stomach is repeated several times, generally until all food or toxins are removed (when the water runs clear).

Occasionally, analyses can be performed on the fluid removed from the stomach but this is the exception rather than the rule. It can be difficult to determine the contents in many cases and laboratory testing can be time consuming and expensive.

Is a Gastric Lavage Painful?

Since the procedure is performed under anesthesia, there is no pain involved. There is no incision so there is no pain after the procedure. Some discomfort may occur due to the temporary placement of the breathing tube. This varies from individual to individual.

Is Sedation or Anesthesia Needed?

General anesthesia is necessary to perform a gastric lavage. General anesthesia will induce unconsciousness, complete control of pain and muscle relaxation. The pet may receive a pre-anesthetic sedative-analgesic drug to help him relax, a brief intravenous anesthetic to allow placement of a breathing tube in the windpipe, and subsequently inhalation (gas) anesthesia in oxygen during the actual procedure.

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