tummy troubles: abdominal adhesions in pets
For this week’s blog, I was asked to write about an interesting, although not commonly discussed topic: abdominal adhesions. This is one of those topics in veterinary medicine that is very similar to what can be seen on the human medicine side of things. So, what exactly are we talking about?
Our furry friend’s abdominal cavities are very specifically designed so that the organs and surrounding tissues are slippery and smooth. This allows our dogs and cats to run, jump, roll around and act like maniacs without these organs and tissues negatively impacting each other.
Abdominal adhesions are bands of fibrous tissue that form between abdominal organs and tissues. These bands, as you can imagine, are not supposed to be there. The bands can occur from organ to organ, or between organs and surrounding tissues. This results in these tissues and organs “sticking” together in a way that nature did not intend.
Abdominal adhesions are primarily caused by trauma to the tissues and organs, usually as a direct result of abdominal surgery. Anytime our pet’s bellies are opened up for surgery, whether routine procedures or in order to treat illness or injury, adhesions can result (and often do).
But don’t fret! The risk of your pet developing abdominal adhesions does not mean that you should avoid any and all surgical procedures. There are precautions that every veterinarian takes during surgery to minimize and/or prevent these adhesions from forming. Reducing tissue handling and trauma, keeping the tissues moist during the procedure, and flushing out blood clots are just a few of the things that veterinarians do in order to minimize the formation of adhesions.
You may be wondering what harm adhesions can cause. Imagine for a moment that you are swimming in a wide open lake. You can easily get from point A to point B without any complication. Now imagine that this lake has ropes of seaweed. This doesn’t mean you can’t swim from point A to point B, but you might get caught along the way.
Abdominal adhesions are sort of like this seaweed. There may be only one are two bands, and they may not cause any problems. However, there are times when our pet’s organs can get “caught” within these bands. Depending on which organ gets caught (the intestines are frequently the culprit), and how severe the entrapment becomes, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, overall malaise, fever and bloating can all occur.
How do we find out if our pet is suffering from abdominal adhesions? Unfortunately, there aren’t any really good tests for the adhesions themselves. Sometimes abdominal radiographs and ultrasound can help us identify abnormalities within the organs that we can attribute to the adhesions. But the only way to definitively diagnose abdominal adhesions is to perform an abdominal exploratory (i.e. go into the abdomen surgically and look for them). During the procedure, the adhesions can be broken down, and the affected organs assessed and treated as necessary. Of course, there is always a risk for more adhesions to form with additional surgery.
The good news: most adhesions do NOT cause problems, and most pets go their entire lives without any complications secondary to abdominal adhesions. Abdominal adhesions are NOT a reason to avoid necessary routine and/or illness-related abdominal surgery. But, they do occur and it is always good to be aware of possible complications associated with any procedure your pet is undergoing. If you have any concern regarding your pet and possible abdominal adhesions, discuss these concerns with your veterinarian. Although abdominal adhesions are not common, they do occur, and your veterinarian is your best resource to discuss your pet’s health and any concerns you might have.