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Diagnostic Tests for Dogs

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Diagnostic Tests for Dogs

When your dog presents to the vet's office with vomiting and/or diarrhea, your vet will need to to put several puzzle pieces together to go to the underlying cause of the digestive upset. Unless you tell your vet your dog has stolen some of you leftover Mexican food off your dish, your vet will want to understand what may be going on.

Following are some diagnostic tests your vet may perform or suggest to perform to have a better idea of what's going on. You can take a closer look into some of these tests if you would like to learn more about what exactly happens, just click on the hyperlink.

History of Dog

Most vets will start the examination by gathering some history of the dog. Your dog's age, past medical history, activity level, diet and detailed explanation of the problem will help your dog gather information that will aid in the diagnostic process. To be better prepared on what to let your dog know, read this article: preparing for your dog's vet visit.

Physical Examination

Your vet may be looking at your dog's gums for color and capillary refill time. He may be checking the skin for elasticity and to ensure your dog is not dehydrated. He'll be looking at the eyes to ensure they'e nice and bright (sunken eyes are often sign of illness and dehydration). He'll be listening to the heart and lungs with the stethoscope and listen to abdominal sounds. He will also be taking your dog's temperature to rule out fevers and infections. Afterward, he may then start palpating the abdomen for signs of swelling and pain. Based on these preliminary findings, you vet may suggest some diagnostic tests for dogs.

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Blood tests

A complete blood count test may help your vet rule out any inflammatory conditions, infections, anemia or presence of certain parasites. A biochemical profile may further rule out upset stomach caused by failure of major organs such as the kidneys and liver, or conditions such as diabetes. If pancreatitis is suspected, the vet may suggest to test the dog's serum amylase and lipase levels. Further, more specific blood tests may be needed based on your dog's bloodwork preliminary findings.

Fecal Examination

A fecal examination may reveal presence of intestinal parasites which are often a cause of digestive problems in dogs. If you are seeing your vet for diarrhea, it's not a bad idea to bring a stool sample with you. Make sure the stool sample is fresh, no older than 12 hours and you won't need a large amount (a teaspoon size will often do). Place the fecal sample in a clean container and label it with your dog's name, date and time collected and your contact information. Fecal examination can also determine the presence of blood and mucus. Before your appointment, ask the vet's office if a stool sample will be needed so you can collect it and bring it along.

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Plain X-rays

If your vet suspects your dog may have swallowed a foreign item or simply needs to take a better look at the stomach and intestines, he may suggest a regular abdominal x-ray. An x-ray will reveal if there are any bones, rocks or pieces of toys stuck somewhere in the dog's digestive system. It will also show if there are any tumors, a dilated stomach, abnormal organs or signs of intessusception (a section of intestine prolapsing into another as in a Chinese finger trap).

Contrast X-rays

Some times, vet may need to see how things move about in the digestive system and this is done though contrast x-rays. In this case, the dog is allowed to ingest a special contrast material known as "barium" or "acquous iodine" which will allow the vet to observe how it moves around the digestive system. If the contrast material slows down in certain areas or has a hard time reaching past an area, this can be indicative of a foreign body blockage somewhere. If it leaks somewhere it's often a sign of perforation. Not all foreign bodies are visible on x-rays, which is why a contrast x-ray may be turn helpful for such cases.


[adinserter block="5"]In an ultrasound, the dog's abdomen may be observed though the use of a sophisticated imaging technique.

This is a non-invasive method but may turn out quite costly if you don't have pet insurance.

For more on the costs for a dog ultrasound and how the procedure work for digestive problems in dogs, read this article: dog ultrasound.


If your dog recently ingested a foreign object, there are chances it can be retrieved through an endoscopic procedure instead of a more invasive surgery requiring the vet to open up your dog's abdomen. In this procedure, a flexible tube is inserted through the mouth all the way down to the stomach and upper smaller intestine.

Here the stomach and smaller intestine can be observed, and if the presence of a foreign object is detected, the vet can retrieve through the use of special handles that can be attached to the endoscopic tube. An endoscope can also be inserted rectally to look at the dogs' rectal area and lower intestinal tract.

Exploratory Surgery

Sometimes, when every second counts and there's little time for diagnostic testing, the vet may decide to perform an exploratory surgery. The least invasive way to do this is through laparatomy, a small opening through the abdomen through which the vet can look for blockages, tumors and any abnormalities of the dog's abdominal organs. During this time, the vet can also obtain biopsies or repair any abnormalities.

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