Cat Endoscopy

What You Should Know About Endoscopy Exams For Cats

Endoscopy can be an intimidating word to hear, especially if you are worried about what may be going on with your cat and your veterinarian is bringing this word up for the very first time. As veterinarians, we want to make sure you feel comfortable with the need for this procedure, how it is performed, what it entails, and what answers it can provide us to help better manage your cat’s condition and keep them healthy.

Let’s explore what exactly endoscopy is, why and how it is used as a diagnostic tool, and what the procedure is like. There are many reasons why your veterinarian may recommend doing an endoscopy procedure on your cat; be sure to relay your questions to your veterinarian for your cat’s specific case. 

What is Cat Endoscopy?

Some more common diagnostic procedures, such as x-rays and bloodwork, can be helpful in suggesting what may be going on, but occasionally your veterinarian will need to be able to perform more in-depth diagnostic procedures in order to diagnose certain disease processes.  Doing so can help them be more precise in treating your cat’s condition, while maintaining you and your cat’s quality of life throughout the process. 

One such procedure is endoscopy.  Endoscopy is the process of using a fiber optic scope (basically, a camera at the end of a tube) to visualize the inside of organs within the body. Your veterinarian usually uses it to look inside the throat, esophagus, stomach, intestines, and colon.  In human medicine, you may be more familiar with the term colonoscopy to describe using a scope to visualize the inside of a person’s colon.  A colonoscopy is essentially the same thing as endoscopy, but endoscopy typically refers to looking inside the intestines and upper digestive systems.  

What Are The Reasons For A Cat Endoscopy?

Endoscopy may be recommended in cases where x-rays or ultrasound procedures have not provided enough information, so your veterinarian needs to better visualize the intestines directly.  Other reasons it may be recommended is if intestinal biopsies are needed or if there is a foreign object that may be stuck in your cat’s esophagus or stomach that can be removed by pulling it out with the scope, thus avoiding the need for more invasive surgery.

Here are some medical reasons your cat may need an endoscopy procedure:

  • Chronic intestinal disease, such as non-relenting vomiting, diarrhea, or weight loss that has not responded to typical treatments and where all other diagnostics have been normal.
  • Stomach or intestinal mass, identified on x-ray or during an abdominal ultrasound, that needs to be biopsied so that samples can be sent to a laboratory for diagnosis.
  • To retrieve a foreign object that your cat may have eaten and is now stuck within the stomach, upper intestines, or in the esophagus.

For a cat with chronic vomiting, being able to look inside the stomach and intestines directly, while also taking tissue biopsies, can give your veterinarian a better answer as to the underlying cause of the vomiting, such as if it is due to inflammatory bowel disease, a chronic infection, or a cancerous process like lymphoma. 

What Happens During A Cat Endoscopy?

During endoscopy, your cat will need to be under general anesthesia in order for them to remain still and so they do not feel any discomfort. Once under anesthesia, the scope is either passed down the esophagus and into the stomach, or into the rectum and up into the colon, depending on what needs to be visualized. There is a tiny light beside the camera at the end of the scope to help the medical team see everything. Depending on what is seen, your veterinarian could then use a small instrument that is passed within the scope to take very small biopsies of the intestines, stomach, or whatever tissue is in question. These biopsies can then be sent to a laboratory to be looked at under the microscope, providing a more definite answer on what is causing your cat to be sick.

Endoscopy is generally a very safe procedure, and recovery is fast and easy on your cat. There is not typically any pain associated with endoscopy, and no prescribed rest, as this is not surgery.  Once your cat is recovered from being under anesthesia and more alert, they can resume their normal activity level right away. In fact, it’s typically what is called an “out-patient” procedure, which means they do not have to stay in the hospital overnight and can go home the same day as the procedure.  They just may be a little groggy from the anesthesia for 12-24 hours.  

Endoscopy is a wonderful diagnostic tool that avoids the need for invasive surgeries and longer recovery times.  Most cats do very well with these procedures, and endoscopy is so useful for making final diagnoses leading to proactive treatment plans.  If your veterinarian has recommended this procedure for your cat, it is likely because they want to be able to better treat your cat’s condition and help you get answers.  Make sure to ask your veterinarian all the questions you have so they can address your concerns about your cat.