In a previous blog, we talked about arthroscopy, which is endoscopy of the joints. Today, we’ll discuss another kind of endoscopy called laparoscopy. If you recall, endoscopic procedures use a flexible or rigid tube with a camera and light source attached to explore body cavities non-invasively. In the case of laparoscopic procedures, the endoscope is used to explore the abdominal cavity.
Laparoscopy is a good alternative to the surgical procedure known as an exploratory laparotomy. In this surgery, a large incision is made in the abdomen to allow the surgeon to visualize all parts of the inside of your pet’s abdomen. The use of a laparoscope allows the surgeon to make one or more small incisions, thereby reducing pain and recovery time.
In laparoscopic procedures, the endoscope is passed through a small incision into your pet’s abdomen. The abdomen is inflated with gas (usually carbon dioxide) to make the organs pull away from the body wall so that the surgeon can get a good look around. Depending on the procedure, additional small incisions will be made around the belly to allow for the use of additional tools, such as grasping and biopsy instruments.
Laparoscopy has many, many applications in veterinary medicine and is used with increasing frequency. Not only does laparoscopy give us the ability to actually visualize the major organs of the abdomen, but it also allows us to manipulate the tissues. Using special instruments, we can perform many procedures that used to require a large abdominal incision, such as:
- Obtaining biopsies. All major organs can be easily biopsied, including the kidneys, pancreas, lymph nodes, stomach, intestines, spleen, and multiple lobes of the liver.
- Diagnosing and removing intestinal and gastric foreign bodies.
- Gall bladder aspiration or removal.
- Staging primary tumors and the extent of spread (metastasis) of cancer.
- Gastropexy, or “tacking” the stomach to prevent gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV)
- Spay surgeries.
- Neuter surgeries when a retained testicle is involved (cryptorchid neuter).
- Placement of feeding tubes in the lower intestinal tract.
Laparoscopy would almost always be preferred for many intra-abdominal procedures if it is an option, but there are some cases where it is not advisable. In cases where patients are unstable, laparoscopy should be delayed until the patient’s condition improves. Other patients who are less-than-ideal candidates for laparoscopy include those who have had other abdominal surgeries and may have a lot of scar tissue and patients who have ascites, or a large amount of fluid in their abdomen due to medical conditions.
Though laparoscopy is becoming more common in veterinary medicine, you may find that your pet’s general practitioner isn’t providing it (yet). This is because endoscopic equipment is expensive, and the learning curve is great. But chances are that a veterinarian or veterinary specialist near you is providing the service, so if your pet can benefit from laparoscopy, you guys may be referred elsewhere for the procedure.
Just as in human medicine, our pets who are recovering from these “mini-invasive” surgeries do so quicker and with less pain, which is good news for both of you!