Also called an esophagram, upper series or contrast study, a barium study is a diagnostic test to evaluate suspected gastrointestinal disease. Barium sulfate, a white radio-opaque metallic powder, is administered to the cat via syringe into the cheek pouch. 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 necessary 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 with ketamine and diazepam. Other sedatives have an impact on gastric delay time which can affect results.
After ingestion, the veterinarian takes a further series of x-rays as the barium moves through the gastrointestinal tract.
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.