Dogs Cats and Endoscopy
Veterinarians have many different types of tests that they can use. Most of the time, a few tests are combined in order to diagnose a problem that your pet has. These tests include everything from blood work and x-rays to CT scans and MRIs. One test in particular is called ‘endoscopy’. Endoscopy is a test that uses a very small video camera that is placed on the end of a long, thin, flexible rod. The rod with the camera on the tip is called an ‘endoscope’. In order for the video camera to work properly, the endoscope may inject air (for example in the digestive tract) or water (for example in the nose) into a body cavity. As the endoscope is placed in the esophagus (throat), for example, the veterinarian can immediately see the live video on a small tv that shows the inside of the esophagus. As the endoscope is pushed forward, the live video will show the rest of the throat, all the way into the stomach, and part of the small intestine.
As that example showed, endoscopy is commonly used for problems of the digestive tract. But endoscopes can be used for so much more! These tools are great to use in narrow places like ear canals and noses. You may have heard the terms ‘laproscopy’ and ‘arthroscopy’ used in human medicine. These terms refer to using an endoscope in the abdomen and joints, respectively. Those are two less common ways that the endoscope is used. No matter where it is used, the endoscope provides a live video of the inside of your pet’s body. This is extremely helpful for finding problems and diseases that are happening inside of the body.
The video isn’t the only thing that the endoscope does. Although it is very useful for the veterinarian to see the problem on video, they often also want to get a sample in order to properly diagnose it. Endoscopes can be used to get biopsies and aspirates. Biopsies are samples of tissue that are cut away from the diseased area with little scissor-like instruments. Aspirates are samples of cells that are washed off of the diseased area when it is sprayed with a stream of water.
What does this mean for your pet? In humans, an endoscope is sometimes used on a person while they are still awake. This is uncommon in animals, because animals will not lay still. Most pets are under general anesthesia (gas) during endoscopy. Endoscopy is usually not a very painful procedure, but depending on where the endoscope is going to be placed and if biopsies will be taken, it can cause discomfort for sure. That said, endoscopy is less invasive than surgery and most animals recover very quickly.
Endoscopy is not the cheapest test to do, but, it is also not as expensive as an MRI or CT scan. It may help give your veterinarian the exact diagnosis of the problem. Not all veterinarians have endoscopes, but it is becoming more common to find endoscopes used in regular veterinary clinics. Remember that endoscopy is only one type of test. Therefore, it is often used in addition to other tests, such as blood work, x-rays, and sometimes even MRIs. Doing multiple tests helps your veterinarian diagnose the problem faster.
As technology progresses, endoscopy is being used for more than just tests. In fact, endoscopy can be used to do surgery! Long, narrow surgical instruments enter the body through small slits in the skin. The endoscope is entered through a different slit and, by watching the live video, the surgeon can do certain surgeries without ever opening up the animal’s body.
Endoscopy is quickly becoming a fairly common test, because as medicine advances, both human and animal hospitals are trying to do tests and surgeries in the least harmful way possible. Instead of opening the body wide open to see organs, the endoscope is put in the natural opening (for example the nostril or mouth), or a tiny slit is made in the skin to put in the endoscope (for example in the abdomen). It allows veterinarians to see a good view of the inside of your pet’s body without opening it in surgery. This is why endoscopy is called a ‘minimally invasive procedure’. It often decreases pain, recovery time, and risk of infection. It’s no wonder endoscopy is becoming more common.