Abdominal Exploratory in Dogs

Overview of Canine Abdominal Exploratory Surgery

An abdominal exploratory surgery refers to almost every non-specific surgery of the dog’s 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 for Abdominal Exploratory Surgery​

Diagnosis for Abdominal Exploratory for Dogs

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 for Abdominal Exploratory for Dogs

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.

Information In-depth on Canine Abdominal Exploratory Surgery

Abdominal exploratory surgery, also called exploratory laparotomy, refers to almost any non-specific surgery of the abdomen. Many times, surgery is done for a specific reason, such as an ovariohysterectomy (spay) or cystotomy (removing stones from the urinary bladder). However, when surgery is done to investigate a possible problem with an abdominal organ, the surgery is termed an exploratory.

During an exploratory laparotomy, every organ in the abdomen is inspected for abnormalities. Possible abnormalities found may include: foreign bodies in the stomach or intestines; tumors on any organ; stones in the kidneys or ureters; twisting of the stomach, intestines, or spleen; tears or openings in the abdominal wall or diaphragm, allowing organs to herniate (protrude) through the opening; inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis); stones in the gall bladder or bile duct; abscesses on any organ; or rupture of any organ.

After an abnormality is identified, it is either removed, taken for biopsy, or otherwise repaired. If no obvious abnormalities are found, the surgery is often termed a “negative exploratory.” In this case, biopsies are taken of several organs suspected to be the cause of the pet’s symptoms to try to identify microscopic evidence of disease.

Diagnosis In-depth

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.

Treatment In-depth

If your dog was hit by a car or has experienced other major trauma, your veterinarian may need to provide initial emergency stabilization therapy in the form of intravenous fluids and oxygen. If your pet has been sick or vomiting for an extended period of time, he may also require stabilization in the form of intravenous fluid therapy.

Exploratory abdominal surgery involves a large incision in the skin and muscle of the abdomen. If there is fluid present in the abdominal cavity, a sample may be collected for analysis and bacterial or fungal culture. Your veterinarian will examine every organ in the abdomen:

In males, one or both testicles may be affected. Males that do not have both testicles descended into the scrotum are called cryptorchid, and cryptorchid testicles can develop into tumors if not removed, so they are removed during exploratory abdominal surgery.

Optimal treatment for your pet requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be critical, especially if your pet does not rapidly improve. Administer all prescribed medications as directed and alert your veterinarian if you are experiencing problems treating your pet.

Postoperative Care

Follow your veterinarian’s instructions for incision care. Your dog may need an Elizabethan collar if she chews or licks at her stitches.

Follow your veterinarian’s instructions for exercise restriction. Your dog will have a large incision in her abdominal wall that needs to heal over the next two weeks. Too much activity can cause this incision to break open.

Depending on what procedure was done during the abdominal exploratory surgery or depending on the biopsy results, your pet may require further medications or treatment. A close working relationship with your veterinarian is critical to the success of your dog’s treatment.