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Special Procedure: Upper Gastrointestinal (GI) Series

Your pet is scheduled to have a special procedure. This information sheet will give you an idea of what is involved in the procedure and what to expect.

What is an upper gastrointestinal (GI) series?

An upper GI series is a progressive radiographic study performed after the oral administration of positive contrast (barium). This study allows visualization of the stomach and small intestines.

Why has an upper GI series been recommended?

The upper GI series is useful for evaluating the structure of the stomach and small intestine as well as providing information regarding the motility of these structures. Indications for this study include assessing for motility reasons for vomiting or not eating, looking for foreign bodies, looking for lesions of the intestine wall (inflammation or cancer), or evaluating for ulcers. Sometimes the study is performed to look for a leak in the stomach or small intestines. The results of the upper GI series will help your veterinarian make a definitive diagnosis and offer you the best options for treating your pet.

Are there any known complications from an upper GI series?

This is a safe procedure with rare complications. If your pet vomits during the study, he/she may aspirate some of the contrast (barium) into the lungs, but the contrast is inert in the lungs and should not cause problems unless a large volume is aspirated. If there is the possibility of a leak in the stomach or small intestines, a different type of contrast (iodinated) may be used which is safer when contrast leaks into the abdominal cavity. This contrast does not allow the optimal evaluation of the stomach and small intestine, which is why it is not routinely used.

How should I prepare my pet for upper GI series?

The intestinal tract must be completely empty in order to ensure optimal evaluation, particularly when the study is used for evaluation of motility. Please withhold food from your pet for 18 hours to ensure that the intestinal tract is empty. Please continue to provide free access to fresh water. Ask your veterinarian for instructions if your pet is on any medications.

Patient preparation will also include cleansing enemas in order to evacuate the colon so that fecal material will not obscure the small intestine or cause delayed motility. The general practice technicians will perform this service the morning of the exam. Please do not administer at-home laxatives or enema products purchased over-the-counter for human or other use. Many of these products are not safe for use in dogs and cats.

What should I bring to the appointment?

We will ask your veterinarian to fax us a copy of the medical record so that you do not need to be responsible. However, if your veterinarian has any x-rays that they are unable to mail to us in time for the appointment, we ask that you please bring those to the appointment.

What happens to my pet after the procedure?

It is normal for your pet's feces to appear white or discolored following the upper GI series because barium is white and often can be seen for a day or so until all the barium passes. Sedation is not commonly needed for an upper GI series; however, some animals can be anxious and for those, a small dose of sedative may be needed at the start of the study. If sedated at the start of the procedure, your pet should be recovered to their usual demeanor by the end of the study. Once your pet is standing and able to move around safely (or at the end of the study for non-sedated patients) your pet will be hospitalized in our wards. Your pet will be able to be discharged between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. You will be notified as to when you may pick up your pet.

How will I learn the results of the upper GI series?

The radiologist who performed your pet's procedure will complete a report which will be faxed to your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will call you with the results of this procedure.

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