Also called an esophagram, upper series or contrast study, a barium study is a diagnostic test to evaluate suspected gastrointestinal disease in cats. Barium sulfate is a white radio-opaque metallic powder, once swallowed, the barium coats the inside walls of the gastrointestinal tract which shows up the structures as bright white on x-rays. The veterinarian can also monitor the transit time of the barium during this procedure.
- Acute and chronic vomiting with blood
- Regurgitation (vomiting of undigested food)
- Suspected gastrointestinal obstruction
- Black, tarry feces (melena)
- Abdominal mass
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Chronic vomiting
- Unexplained weight loss
- Chronic colitis
- Gastric ulcers
- Neoplasms of the esophagus and stomach
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Gastrointestinal motility disorders
Barium study procedure
Withhold food for 12-24 hours and water two hours before the procedure. In some cases, a laxative or enema will be administered to empty the gastrointestinal tract.
A series of x-rays are necessary before ingestion to make sure the gastrointestinal tract is properly prepared.
Barium is administered via needleless syringe or gastric intubation, if it is the latter, the cat will be sedated. The type of sedatives will depend on the suspected issue. Ketamine/acepromazine will be given to cats where gastric motility isn’t an issue, or ketamine/valium if a gastric motility disorder is suspected.
After ingestion, the veterinarian takes a further series of x-rays at 10, 20 and 30 minutes, 1 hour, and hourly thereafter until contrast material enters the large bowel.
No special care is necessary after the procedure.
Constipation can occur following a barium swallow, and the cat’s stools may be chalky for a day or two.