How to Do Bowel Movement Auscultation with a Stethoscope

Abdominal or bowel movement auscultation is performed to characterize different gut sounds and their frequency. A higher frequency of gut sounds may indicate an acute case of gastritis, toxin ingestion, or intestinal obstruction. Reduced frequency or absence of sounds can be noted when there are cases of ileus, chronic obstruction in the intestines, abdominal effusion, and peritonitis.  

If the animal hasn’t been eating for a while the frequency of the sounds will be decreased. When the auscultation is performed the clinician must wait for more than two minutes to determine whether sounds are absent. If one fails to detect abnormal sounds it doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t an undergoing pathology inside the digestive system. Auscultation should be performed on a calm animal and a quiet environment. The results of the diagnostic procedure must be combined with the clinical signs (diarrhea, vomiting, anorexia, dehydration) and patient’s history to get an idea of what might be wrong and to include appropriate laboratory testing and possible therapy.

Performing bowel movement auscultation


The left side of any adult ruminant is taken by the rumen. The auscultation is performed by placing and holding the stethoscope on the skin in the paralumbar fossa. The clinician should hear the turnovers produced by the rumen like strong contractions. The noise is similar to a spinning washing machine. Normal contractions of the rumen occur every 1.5 to 3 minutes. Hypermotility is considered when there is 1 contraction or more per minute. Hypomotility is evident when 1 contraction can be heard every 3 minutes or more.   


The pelvic fixture of the small colon and large intestines are located beneath the upper left quadrant of the horse’s flank where a quit sound should be present due to a small amount of gas and fluid. The left upper and lower colon lies beneath the lower left quadrant and the base of the cecum is beneath the upper right quadrant. These areas when auscultated should produce consistent sounds with greater intensity.

Companion animals

It’s not quite common to examine bowel movements with a stethoscope in companion animals, but some clinicians still do it. The aim is to determine the frequency, as increased sounds may indicate gut transit times and movement, and decreased frequency can be a sign of obstruction or ileus.

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