When your pet is sick, you want answers quickly, and so do we. One of the quickest and most effective ways to assess an animal’s organ function is imaging the pet with an ultrasound. Veterinary ultrasound is the same technology human medicine uses to gather real-time images of internal structures. Many owners are shocked that this advanced capability is available for their cat or dog. At Wales Animal Clinic, we rely on ultrasound daily to improve diagnostic accuracy and patient outcomes, and to detect disease in its earliest stages.

Sounds good—how veterinary ultrasounds work

Unlike other imaging techniques, such as X-ray and computed tomography (CT), ultrasound does not use radiation to create an image. Instead, ultrasound uses safe, nonpainful sound waves that pass from a handheld transducer through the pet’s skin. As the sound waves bounce off internal structures at various depths, they return to the transducer and display a two-dimensional real-time image. Like a pregnancy ultrasound, pet ultrasound relays the subject’s dynamic movement, and is ideal for measuring internal structures.

Waves of benefits—veterinary ultrasound advantages

Fluid is conducive to sound waves, making ultrasound ideal for assessing soft tissue and internal organs. Bone and air are poor conductors, so other imaging modalities are better for lung, skeletal, and spinal evaluation. Ultrasound has numerous advantages for the veterinarian and the patient. As a diagnostic tool, ultrasound is incredibly convenient. Pet assessment is quick and comfortable, and rarely requires sedation, unless a biopsy is needed. Ultrasound allows the veterinarian to:

  • Assess organ function in real-time 
  • Evaluate blood flow
  • View tissue architecture in detail
  • Measure an abnormality’s size, thickness, and location
  • Monitor suspicious findings
  • Determine surgical versus non-surgical patients
  • Perform rapid triage assessment in an emergency
  • Detect time-sensitive diseases (e.g., cancer and kidney disease) sooner

Seeing is diagnosing—common uses for veterinary ultrasound

Ultrasound imaging complements the physical examination and lab work. When one or both of these diagnostic options suggest an abnormality or are inconclusive, your veterinarian may recommend an ultrasound. 

  • Abnormal physical examination If your veterinarian palpates a mass, painful area, abnormal fluid, or tissue thickening in your pet’s abdominal cavity, ultrasound can provide specific visual information regarding the location, size, and shape of the problem. Your veterinarian may recommend biopsy, surgery, continued monitoring, or other treatment, based on their findings. Common ultrasound-based diagnoses include:
    • Inflammatory bowel disease
    • Abdominal mass
    • Stomach ulceration
    • Kidney or liver disease
  • Abnormal lab work — Blood work or urinalysis findings may reveal reduced organ function, suggesting organ damage or compromise. Ultrasound can pinpoint structural damage such as liver cirrhosis, loss of renal tubules in the kidney, or a distended gallbladder. Lab work and ultrasound work in concert to diagnose:
    • Liver and kidney disease
    • Spleen or adrenal gland tumors
    • Lymphoma
    • Congenital abnormalities
    • Urinary crystals or bladder stones
    • Pancreatitis or pancreatic insufficiency
  • Trauma — In an emergency, if an internal injury is suspected, veterinarians can quickly scan a pet’s abdomen to look for bleeding. This technique is a focused assessment for trauma (FAST), and takes only two minutes. A cardiac FAST is performed for suspected chest trauma to look for fluid around the heart. Ultrasound may precede the physical examination in these emergencies:
    • Hit by a car
    • Dog attack
    • Fall from a height
    • Bloat (i.e., gastric dilation volvulus)
    • Impalement

  • Vomiting or diarrhea — Gastrointestinal signs can indicate a wide range of conditions. An ultrasound is helpful when blood work is inconclusive, or the veterinarian wishes to view the gastrointestinal tract in detail. Gastric or intestinal thickening can be measured on the screen, highlighting chronic or acute inflammation areas, or detecting obstructions along the intestinal tract. Common conditions include:
    • Inflammatory bowel disease
    • Food sensitivity or allergy
    • Gastrointestinal obstruction (i.e., foreign body)
    • Pancreatitis

  • Inconclusive exam and lab work — An ultrasound is the next logical step toward diagnosing pets who show no clear cause for their clinical signs. Ultrasound can reveal an otherwise elusive diagnosis, eliminate guesswork, reduce veterinary bills, and shorten pet discomfort.

  • Senior pet screening — Annual abdominal ultrasound screening is recommended for healthy senior pets. By identifying common age-related diseases, such as kidney and liver insufficiency, we can intervene early, and improve and extend quality of life.

  • Cardiac evaluation — A heart evaluation using ultrasound is formally known as an echocardiogram. While a veterinary cardiologist must perform a diagnostic echocardiogram, your veterinarian can assess primary structures in the hospital:
    • Valve function 
    • Blood flow
    • Wall thickness
    • Contraction strength
    • Presence of congenital defects
  • Diagnostic sampling — Ultrasound can assist in the non-invasive biopsy of an organ or tissue with a needle (i.e., fine needle aspirate). The ultrasound provides visual guidance in real time, minimizing trauma, and improving safety and accuracy. Ultrasound-guided cystocentesis is a convenient way to collect sterile urine from the pet’s bladder for urinalysis and culture. 

Veterinary ultrasonography can provide a detailed picture of your pet’s internal health, allowing your veterinarian to make fast and accurate decisions about their treatment, with no guesswork or invasive surgery. For more information about the benefits of veterinary ultrasound, or to discuss how the procedure can help your pet, contact Wales Animal Clinic.