Endoscopy – the inside story

Sometimes it can be really helpful to look inside an animal to see what is going on. There are many ways of examining the insides of an animal: blood tests, imaging techniques (like X-ray and ultrasound) and sometimes it is necessary to operate to find out what is going on. Endoscopy is an alternative to some forms of surgery. Endoscopy is increasingly being performed in general practice and your vet may suggest it for your pet if it has a breathing problem or bowel trouble.

Endoscopy is the term used to describe the method of obtaining an image of the inside of the body by placing a special tube (endoscope) inside the body. There are 2 kinds of endoscope:

  • rigid endoscope is a small tube like a telescope. These are used by vets for looking inside joints, the bladder, nose and body cavities (and can even be used to perform keyhole surgery).
  • flexible endoscope is often used for looking into the stomach but can also be put into the airways and down into the lungs. The advantage of a flexible endoscope is that it can be steered around corners. Flexible endoscopes are extremely useful for viewing the inside of the stomach and bowel where the endoscope has to pass a long distance into the body.

Using either type of scope a magnified image can be projected onto a screen. A long pair of forceps can be passed along the scope so that samples can be collected from areas deep within the body.

Endoscopy is most commonly used in animals with bowel problems, especially chronic diarrhoea, in dogs that are coughing and with asthma. It is quite expensive to have endoscopy and your pet will have to have an anaesthetic so your vet will not recommend the procedure unless they think it is likely to give important new information that may help in the treatment of your pet.

Sometimes the information provided by clinical examination, X-rays, and blood tests will lead your vet to suspect a problem in a particular area (such as the bowel). There may be no way to get more information about this without performing an operation or endoscopy.

In other cases, your vet may need to take samples for further tests and endoscopy may allow these samples to be collected without your pet having an operation. If you are worried about your pet having endoscopy then discuss your concerns with your vet and they will tell you if there is any other option.

It is essential that your pet does not move during endoscopy and so they will be given a short anaesthetic. In preparation for all anaesthetics your vet will ask you not to feed your pet after the evening before the day of the investigation. If your pet is having an examination of its large bowel (colon) your vet may need to give it an enema, to clean out the bowel, before the examination.

It is essential that your pet remains still throughout the whole investigation as they may damage themselves or the expensive equipment if they struggle during the procedure. Modern anaesthetics are very safe and your pet will probably recover more rapidly from an anaesthetic than from any type of sedation.

Endoscopy will provide your vet with more detailed information about the area of concern. Using an endoscope your vet may be able to collect samples from deep within the lungs or the bowel and these samples can be sent to a laboratory to get more information about your pets condition or the best treatment.

There are few risks associated with endoscopy (aside from the risks associated with anaesthesia). Sometimes the disease your pet has will increase the risk of an anaesthetic, but the only alternative to endoscopy may be an operation which also requires an anaesthetic (and usually has other risks too). If you are concerned ask your vet to explain all the potential risks of the procedure and to discuss any alternatives with you.

You will usually be able to take your pet home as soon as they have recovered from the anaesthetic, unless they are receiving further treatment. They should not require any special treatment after endoscopy. After the anaesthetic has worn off they should be back to how they were before the procedure.

Sometimes pets will cough more than usual for a day or so after (if they have had a tube placed in their throat). If your pet seems uncomfortable or is off their food after the procedure be sure to let your vet know.

In most cases endoscopy offers a safe form of investigation that may give your vet vital information to help treat your pet more effectively. The risks and complications of the procedure are minimal and this modern investigation allows your vet to offer better options for managing your pet.