Gastrointestinal surgery is an umbrella term for any type of surgery of the stomach or intestines, sometimes including other surgeries on abdominal structures such as the liver or spleen.
There are many different reasons why a pet may need gastrointestinal surgery. Some of the most common examples we treat at Bond Vet include:
Gastropexy/Gastric Torsion (GDV)
This surgery involves permanently adhering the stomach to the abdominal wall. The procedure is commonly performed to correct or prevent a condition called gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), in which the stomach twists and rapidly expands with gas.
A gastropexy is often done on an emergency basis, when a dog develops GDV (which is fatal in a matter of hours without treatment).
But, it may also be done preventively as an elective add-on to the spay or neuter of a puppy who is considered high-risk (large, deep-chested dog breeds such as Great Danes).
Gastrotomy/enterotomy (foreign bodies or tumors/masses)
These terms describe surgically opening the stomach (gastrotomy) or small intestines (enterotomy) and then closing the organ again with sutures.
There are many different reasons why this could be necessary, but the most common example is removing a “foreign body” (an object a pet ate—for example, a sock, tampon, corn cob, or plastic toy—that got stuck and caused a stomach or intestinal blockage).
Resection and anastomosis of the intestines
This is when an abnormal or damaged portion of the intestines needs to be surgically removed. After that, the two healthy, remaining ends of the intestines are attached.
A common reason for this is if a foreign body (as described above) caused damage to the intestines beyond repair where it got stuck—the unhealthy section of intestines would be removed, along with the foreign body.
Another example is removal of a tumor or a cancerous mass.
The liver is composed of several lobes, or sections. Removing one of these lobes is called a lobectomy. This is most commonly performed to remove a cancerous (or suspected cancerous) mass in the liver, after the mass is discovered on x-ray or ultrasound.
In some cases, a partial lobectomy (removal of just part of a specific liver lobe), may be all that’s needed.
A splenectomy is a surgery to remove the spleen. Most often, this is performed due to a cancer of the spleen, a ruptured/bleeding spleen, or splenic torsion (a condition where the spleen twists).
If the gallbladder—the small organ that stores bile for digestion—gets backed up or blocked due to stones, thickened mucus, or another cause, it may be removed to prevent gallbladder rupture.
A gallbladder removal is also referred to as a “cholecystectomy.”
A nephrectomy is the removal of a kidney, which is not a common surgery but does happen sometimes.
Cancer, severe trauma or infection, damage from kidney stones or stones stuck in the ureter (the tube between a kidney and the urinary bladder), or another detrimental abnormality may be a cause for kidney removal.
Dogs and cats have two kidneys, so one kidney should be functioning well in order for the other to be removed.
A biopsy is when a small tissue sample is taken for microscopic analysis, to get an accurate diagnosis for a medical condition so the best treatment can be pursued.
Common indications for intestinal biopsies may be for pets who have long-term or severe gastrointestinal problems, or intestines that appear abnormal on ultrasound. When other, less invasive tests don’t provide a diagnosis, biopsies can let your veterinarian know exactly what’s happening in the intestines on a cellular level.
This condition is when the diaphragm (the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen, and plays a large role in healthy breathing) has a hole that was either there naturally (it may have been present at birth), or developed due to trauma (such as being hit by a car).
If the opening is large enough, abdominal organs could slide into the chest, resulting in breathing difficulty and other potential problems. A surgery to correct this issue is known as a diaphragmatic hernia repair.
This term refers to a hernia (tissues “spilling” or protruding through a hole in the muscles and connective tissue that normally hold everything in place) in the groin.
If the hernia is small and limited to movement of just the fat under the skin, it may not need to be corrected. But, if there is a risk of organs such as the intestines or urinary bladder sliding through the hole and getting trapped (something that can be life-threatening), an inguinal hernia repair may be necessary.
What does the surgery or treatment entail?
As you can see, there are many different types of gastrointestinal and abdominal surgeries. So, the exact nature of the surgery will vary depending on what your individual dog or cat needs, and whether the surgery is planned ahead of time or performed as an emergency.
But, the important thing to know is, your furkid will be in good hands with an experienced surgeon and a caring team to handle their anesthesia and monitoring. You’ll receive updates, and your pet will be monitored until they are ready to return home—at which point, you’ll receive detailed instructions for their continued home care and any needed rechecks.
What does recovery look like?
When your pet comes home, they’ll have sutures (stitches) on their belly. You’ll receive instructions for monitoring, and likely an Elizabethan collar to prevent your furkid from licking the incision and accidentally removing their sutures.
Your dog or cat will likely have medications to administer, too—your vet team will explain how to give them. Remember, don’t give any other medications without talking to your vet first, since human meds can be toxic to pets and may interact with the medications they are already receiving.
Rest will also be important for healing.
Your individual pet’s instructions may vary, so always follow your vet’s instructions exactly, and call your vet’s office with any questions or concerns.