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Barium Meal

Barium is a contrast agent that is used to better visualise the gastro-intestinal tract via radiology. Sometimes a plain radiograph doesn’t show everything the vet needs to see, so they might want to do something called a barium series, or a contrast series. By using Barium, the x-rays show, a complete picture of the gastro-intestinal tract. Over a few hours, the barium moves through the stomach and all of the intestines and is passed out.

What is Barium?

Barium is a contrast material which is opaque. On an x-ray film it appears as bright white against a black backdrop – making it much easier to see the gastro-intestinal tract within the abdomen.

How is Barium given?

Barium is a white liquid which is syringe fed to the dog or cat and then a series of x-rays are performed following ingestion of the Barium Meal.

When would you use Barium?

Barium would be used on animals when there may be a gastro-intestinal problem such as intestinal and stomach obstructions or tumours. To do a barium series, the vet first will take a plain radiograph of the pet’s abdomen, without any barium. Then you syringe feed the pet barium. The vet will take repeat radiographs throughout the next 6 hours to monitor the path of the barium. If the pet does not have an obstruction, then the barium will move smoothly through all of the pets intestines. If the pet has an obstruction, then the barium will stop where the obstruction is located. Therefore, Barium can help the vet diagnose any obstruction, and help them locate it before commencing surgery.

Side Effects of Barium Contrast Studies

Barium as a contrast agent is a fairly safe, non - irritant, non toxic substance, which can be safely swallowed by dogs and cats. The big thing that’s Vets are wary about when conducting these tests is a complication known as ‘aspiration pneumonia’. This occurs when dogs and cats don’t swallow the substance properly and some is aspirated into the lungs.

When conducting barium contrast studies, Vets will take care to avoid any aspiration. This is usually done by conducting the tests without any sedation or anaesthesia,


Barium Contrast Studies are a useful diagnostic tool used by Vets to identify problems and disorders associated with the gastro-intestinal tract. The main complication with barium is aspiration pneumonia. This is very rare if done correctly.

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