Veterinary Endoscopy: A Closer Look
What is endoscopy? Endoscopy means to "examine with an endoscope." An endoscope, which may be rigid or flexible, can be used to examine organs that otherwise might require surgery to evaluate or because access to the area of interest is extremely limited through traditional approaches. These instruments can be as short as a few inches to longer than one meter. Specialized endoscopes are named for where they are intended to look. Examples include the cystoscope (bladder), rhinoscope (nose), bronchoscope (trachea and bronchi), laryngoscope (larynx), otoscope (ear), laparoscope (abdomen), and gastrointestinal endoscopes (stomach, intestines, colon).
Because of the expense associated with purchasing these instruments and the training required to use them properly, many of these procedures are performed only by board-certified internal medicine specialists in advanced care facilities such as OSVS. Veterinary internists are not only specially trained to use this equipment, but are also trained to interpret the findings and come up with a treatment plan for the patient; it is for these reasons that many patients are referred to a specialty hospital such as OSVS. All of our scoping procedures require general anesthesia, so we often perform other testing beforehand such as blood work and an abdominal ultrasound or chest X-rays to ensure that endoscopy is the right diagnostic tool for the patient and that the patient is healthy enough for anesthesia.
Endoscopy is often our tool of choice when we are faced with a patient that has signs of intestinal disease, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or weight loss, and all other diagnostic tests have failed to yield a diagnosis. With this procedure, we pass our endoscope through the mouth and into the digestive tract, which allows us to visualize the innermost layer of the esophagus, stomach, and intestines, as well as take samples (called "biopsies") for microscopic evaluation. Using this type of evaluation, we can often see ulcers, inflammation, and tumors that other imaging modalities cannot find. The scope is attached to a TV screen so that we can capture real-time images of the organs we are evaluating; these photos then become part of the patient’s medical record.
View a gallery of images from a few select cases.
We also use endoscopy on an emergency basis for retrieval of foreign objects that our pets indiscriminately eat. Some of the foreign objects we have removed at OSVS from dog and cat stomachs include socks, sewing needles, fish hooks, pennies, marrow bones, jewelry, and rocks! We can only effectively perform this procedure if the object is still in the stomach, however, which we usually can prove by taking an X-ray. Once the foreign object has passed into the intestines, surgery is usually the best option. Having endoscopy as a tool to remove potentially dangerous foreign objects provides a treatment option that is less invasive and less expensive than surgery, and our patients usually go home within hours of the procedure.