Ultrasounds in Veterinary Medicine

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Did your veterinarian recommend that your pet has an ultrasound done? There are many different reasons that your vet may have recommended an ultrasound for your pet. This is a very useful tool in veterinary medicine.  Not all veterinary clinics can do this type of procedure, but it is becoming more popular in veterinary medicine. 

Ultrasound of a dogWhat Is an Ultrasound?

An ultrasound is an imaging technique that lets your veterinarian look at internal organs in your dog’s body.  These structures are seen by recording echoes of ultrasonic waves put off by an ultrasound probe. Ultrasound waves are not like x-rays, and they are safe for your pet and the veterinary staff.

Your veterinarian will use an ultrasound probe and direct it toward an area of interest in your pet’s abdomen.  These waves can either go thru, be reflected, or be absorbed by the tissues that they encounter.  These waves will produce a black and white image on the ultrasound screen that your veterinarian can interpret to help diagnose what is wrong with your pet.

Why Does My pet need an Ultrasound?

An ultrasound of your pet’s abdomen is a great tool that helps your veterinarian examine your pet’s internal organs.  This was first used in veterinary medicine for determining pregnancy in animals.  This technique has been more developed and advanced since then and can be used to examine all internal organs, even the heart.

An ultrasound study may be done if your vet thinks that your dog had a mass on an abdominal organ.  It can also be used to evaluate your dog’s heart or see if they are pregnant.  

Why would my vet not just take a radiograph?

While radiographs are a very useful tool, they also have limits.  Radiographs use different densities of the different tissues in your pet’s body to create an image.  They rely on the tissues, air, and bones in your pet’s body to create these different shades on the radiograph.  

Radiographs can be used to see broken bones, large masses in the abdomen, and areas of gas in the intestines, but they cannot see the movement of these organs and into these organs.  

They can also see the size of your pet’s heart and see if there is anything abnormal in the lungs.  

When your vet is using ultrasound, they are able to:

  • See the fluid or stones in your pet’s bladder
  • See masses on your pet’s liver, kidneys, or spleen
  • See the movement of the intestines
  • See large areas of fluid accumulation in their abdomen
  • See into the heart and see the different chambers of the heart
  • See infection in your pet’s uterus
  • See if your pet is pregnant
  • See the different valves in your pet’s heart
  • See fluid in the chest or around their heart

Ultrasound of a dogDoes My young pet need an ultrasound?

Ultrasounds are not used just for older and sick pets; young pets can also benefit from having an ultrasound too.  Many vets will perform an ultrasound of your pet each year to make sure that there are not any small mass or other abnormalities that are not showing on bloodwork.  Ultrasounds can also be used to detect any congenital abnormalities. 

Your vet may also use an ultrasound to get a urine sample from your pet if they have a urinary tract infection.  There are many uses for an ultrasound exam for all pets. 

Does My Pet need to be sedated for an Ultrasound?

Most pets do not need to be sedated for an ultrasound.  If your pet lies still on its back or side, your vet can usually perform an ultrasound with your pet awake. If your pet is very painful or does not cooperate, your vet may recommend that your pet has a mild sedative. 

Does an Ultrasound hurt my pet?

Ultrasound is a non-invasive and painless procedure.  Your pet may not like having to lay on their back for the ultrasound to be performed, but it does not hurt them.  

During the ultrasound, your vet may find a mass inside your pet’s abdomen.  Your vet may then need to take a sample from this mass.  Depending on the location, your vet may recommend that your pet is sedated for this sample to be taken.  This may be a little painful, and your pet needs to stay extremely still during this procedure.  

What Can’t an ultrasound be used for?

If your pet has a broken leg, your vet will not use ultrasound.  They will want to take a radiograph of this leg.  Most ultrasounds are only used for the chest and abdomen and not used for the legs, spine, and head.  In these cases, radiographs, MRI, or CT scans will provide more useful information.  

Ultrasound of a dogFinal Thoughts on Ultrasound for Pets

If your veterinary is recommending that your pet have an ultrasound, this is a very easy and non-invasive procedure that can give your veterinarian a lot of information about your pet’s internal organs.  This procedure can detect an issue in your pet earlier so that you can start doing something about these issues before it becomes a major issue for your pet.  Ultrasounds are a great advancement to veterinary medicine that your vet can use to help keep your pet healthy and happy. 

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