You may know about or have experienced ultrasound for yourself, but did you know that this advanced diagnostic technology is available for pets, too? Ultrasound has an important role in helping diagnose many diseases and conditions, and can provide valuable information to our Stone Ridge Veterinary Center team. Armed with the information ultrasound can provide, we can make a diagnosis followed by treatment recommendations, and help your pet feel better, sooner.
What is ultrasound in pets?
Ultrasound is a safe, non-invasive procedure that, unlike X-rays, does not expose your pet to radiation. An ultrasound machine uses sound waves to penetrate internal organs and create an on-screen image that a veterinarian uses to form a diagnosis. The procedure is performed with a handheld tool called a transducer, which is placed on the body area to be studied, and provides images from inside the body. Ultrasound does not require anesthesia, and is completely painless for your pet.
How is ultrasound used?
Ultrasound has four main uses in pets.
- Prenatal — Ultrasound techniques were first used in animals to identify and monitor pregnancies. As in humans, prenatal ultrasound is used to view images of the puppies and kittens, to determine their health, and to ascertain their position and age, without exposure to unnecessary radiation.
- Abdominal — Abdominal ultrasound is non-invasive, and can be used repeatedly to look inside your pet’s body without surgery. Our Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center veterinarians are trained in using ultrasound to detect changes in abdominal organs. Your pet’s veterinarian may use ultrasound to visualize body structures or foreign bodies prior to surgery, or to answer one of the following:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Lack of appetite
- Fluid in the abdomen
- A mass or abnormality detected during the physical examination
- Unexplained vomiting or diarrhea
- Urogenital problems
- Abnormal blood work results or X-ray finding
- Cardiac ultrasound — Ultrasound is a useful tool for examining heart walls, structures, and valves, to evaluate cardiac function. Ultrasound of the heart is known as echocardiography. A specialized form of echocardiography is known as Doppler ultrasound, which measures the direction and speed of blood flow through the heart. Blood vessels can also be measured. Color-flow Doppler technology makes observing blood flow through the heart and important blood vessels clearer.
- Emergency ultrasound — Ultrasound is being used more and more as a primary diagnostic tool in emergency and critical care settings. Internal injuries can be difficult to detect on physical exam, so the Focused Assessment with Sonography (ultrasound) for Trauma (FAST)scan has become extremely useful for pets in a critical situation.
What does an ultrasound show?
Ultrasound images show abnormalities in the size and shape of internal structures that could indicate a disease process, foreign body, or other problem. Our veterinarians have received extensive training in image analysis to detect abnormalities. We send the ultrasound images to a board-certified veterinary radiologist, who has completed a three-year residency following veterinary school and been trained specifically in diagnostic imaging, to verify our findings. Ultrasound is useful for identifying:
- Cysts and nodules
- Abdominal masses
- Liver disease
- Kidney stones and disease
- Stomach problems and intestinal obstructions
- Heart murmurs
- Heart disease
In addition, ultrasound is frequently used for biopsies. An ultrasound-guided biopsy can help gather cellular samples precisely, from specific body areas. We send the samples to the laboratory for analysis, and can often make a definitive diagnosis from a biopsy.
My pet needs an ultrasound. What can I expect?
If your pet is calm and cooperative, no anesthesia will be needed for ultrasound, but if they are fearful or fractious, we may recommend a sedative to keep them more comfortable. We will shave your pet’s hair at the ultrasound site to ensure the probe makes good contact with the skin and produces high quality images, since ultrasound waves don’t pass through hair easily. Your pet’s hair will generally grow back in three to four weeks.
Ultrasound is extremely useful in pregnancy diagnosis, visualizing abnormalities, and evaluating heart function. Contact your Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center team to schedule a wellness examination for your pet. We are proud that we have such advanced equipment as ultrasound available for your pet, because their health is our top priority.