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Acute abdomen: investigation



  • Acute onset of abdominal pain.
  • Prompt diagnosis and immediate medical or surgical intervention necessary to prevent deterioration of patient.



  • Depends on primary cause.
  • Sources of abdominal pain include the following systems:
    • Urogenital, eg ureteric obstruction due to ureterolithiasis Urolithiasis.
    • Gastrointestinal, eg small intestinal obstruction.
    • Splenic.
    • Hepatobiliary.
    • Pancreatic.
    • Peritoneal.
  • Displacement, obstruction or distention, inflammation or infection, perforation or rupture, and/or vascular compromise in any of these systems can result in somatic or visceral pain and the presentation of an acute abdomen.


  • Abdominal pain caused by distention/stretch, inflammation or ischemia of solid or hollow abdominal organs, mesentery or parietal peritoneum.
  • Ischemia and inflammation can also result in activation of pain receptors via the release of mediators such as bradykinin, serotonin, histamine and eicosanoids.


  • Acute onset.


  • Signalment and history can aid in helping focus on most likely diagnosis.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Walters J M (2003) Abdominal paracentesis and diagnostic peritoneal lavage. Clin Tech Small Anim Pract 18 (1), 32-38 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Boag A & Huges D (2008) Emergency management of the acute abdomen in dogs and cats. 1. Investigation and initial stabilisation. In Practice 26 (9), 476-83 VetMedResource.
  • Mann F A (2000) Acute Abdomen: Evaluation an Emergency Treatment. Current Veterinary Therapy XIII. Ed J D Bonagura. WB Saunders Company, Philadelphia. pp160-164.
  • Holt D & Brown D (1999) Acute abdomen and gastrointestinal emergencies. In: Manual of Canine and Feline Emergency and Critical Care. Eds L G King and R Hammond R. British Small Animal Veterinary Association, United Kingdom. pp. 127-144.
  • Kleine L J (1997) Radiology of acute abdominal disorders of the dog and cat (Parts I and II). In: Emergency Medicine in Small Animal Practice: The Compendium Collection. Veterinary Learning Systems, Trenton, NJ. pp. 336-351.

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