Endoscopy - the inside story
When your vet examines your rabbit, they can normally see if there are any signs of illness or sores on the outside. Sometimes it's necessary to look inside an animal to see what is going on. There are many ways of examining the insides of animals. Blood tests, imaging techniques (like x-ray, CT scanning, MRI scans, and ultrasound) and sometimes it is necessary to operate to find out what is going on. One alternative to some forms of surgery is endoscopy. Endoscopy is increasingly being performed in general practice and your vet may suggest it for your rabbit if it has a breathing problem or intestinal symptoms.
What is endoscopy?
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 and flexible:
- A rigid endoscope is a small tube like a telescope. These are used by vets for looking inside joints, the ladder, nose and body cavities (and can even be used to perform keyhole surgery). These are as the name suggests, rigid, so are not capable of bending around corners, so often have limited use.
- A 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, and even foreign bodies can be removed via this method.
Why might my rabbit need endoscopy?
Endoscopy is most commonly used in rabbits with bowel problems, especially weight loss. It can be quite expensive to have endoscopy and your rabbit 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 rabbit.
Sometimes the information provided by clinical examinations, 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 rabbit having an operation. If you are worried about your rabbit having endoscopy, then discuss your concerns with your vet and they will tell you if there is any other option.
How will my rabbit be prepared before endoscopy?
It is essential that your rabbit does not move during endoscopy and so they will be given a short anaesthetic. As with all anaesthetics and sedations in rabbits, it is important never to starve them, and ensure that they are eating and drinking well right up to the time the anaesthetic is given. It is never possible to endoscope a rabbit with an empty stomach or gastrointestinal system, since there will always be food within in.
Why does my rabbit need an anaesthetic for endoscopy?
It is essential that your rabbit remains still throughout the whole investigation as they may cause damage to themselves or the expensive equipment if they struggle during the procedure. Modern anaesthetics are very safe, and your rabbit should also be given prokinetic medication to ensure their GI tract keeps moving and doesn't slow down too much during anaesthetic.
How will endoscopy help my vet?
Endoscopy will provide your vet with more detailed information about the area of concern. Using an endoscope your vet may also be able to collect samples from deep within the lungs or the bowel; these samples can be sent to a laboratory to get more information about your rabbit's condition, or the best treatment option.
What are the risks of endoscopy?
There are few risks associated with endoscopy (aside from the risks associated with anaesthesia). Sometimes the disease your rabbit 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.
If endoscopic samples are taken there is always the risk of breakdown of the sight and peritonitis within the abdomen, but these risks should be discussed with your vet beforehand to determine if the risk to benefit ratio is acceptable.
How should I care for my rabbit when they come home?
You will usually be able to take your rabbit 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. If your pet seems uncomfortable or is off their food after the procedure, be sure to let your vet know. It is imperative that your rabbit is eating and drinking, as well as passing faeces within a few hours, otherwise you must consult your vet.
So, in most cases endoscopy offers a safe form of investigation that may give your vet vital information to help treat your rabbit 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 rabbit.