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When is a Veterinary Ultrasound Used?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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Veterinary ultrasound in used in many of the same circumstances that call for the use of ultrasound on humans. It can be a useful diagnostic tool, and it can also be used to monitor ongoing conditions. In some circumstances, it may be necessary to use veterinary ultrasound because animals cannot communicate with humans about their symptoms, and as a result, an ultrasound may be used in lieu of an extensive patient interview.

One of the most common reasons for a veterinarian to use ultrasound is as an aid to diagnosis. For example, if a male cat is brought in by an owner who claims that the cat is having difficulty urinating, the veterinarian might use ultrasound to check for an obstruction in the bladder or urethra. Ultrasound can also be used to examine suspicious masses and other findings which occur during a manual exam. It can also be used in emergency settings to look for serious medical problems such as internal organs damaged in a collision.

A clinic may also use veterinary ultrasound to monitor an ongoing condition. A pregnant dog, for example, may be given several ultrasound examinations to confirm the pregnancy and assess the health of the developing puppies. Ultrasound can also be used to monitor the progress of liver and kidney disease, along with any treatment approaches, just as it is in humans.

Large animal veterinary ultrasound can be utilized for things like checking on the heart health of a race horse, determining that a cow is ready for breeding, or checking for the source of an intestinal obstruction in a goat. Veterinary ultrasound can also be used to guide procedures such as biopsies, with the veterinarian ultrasounding the area of interest to confirm that the sample is taken from the correct location.

In the case of large animals, the veterinarian may bring the ultrasound machine to the animal, to reduce stress for the animal prior to the examination. Small animals must generally be brought into a veterinary clinic for an ultrasound examination. In both cases, the procedure is painless, and the animal generally does not need to be sedated, although a veterinary technician or assistant is usually present to hold and calm the animal so that the vet can get a good image. Veterinary ultrasound can take between 30 minutes and an hour and a half, depending on the reason for the examination and the type of animal.

Not all veterinarians offer ultrasound. Some vets may need to refer clients to another veterinarian or to a veterinary ultrasound specialist. Owners may opt to be present during the exam in some cases, and the veterinarian can provide information about the anatomical structures seen during the ultrasound examination. Depending on the findings of the imaging study, a veterinarian can recommend the best course of action, which can vary from requesting additional testing to recommending a change of medication to continuing the animal's care as before.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a veterinary ultrasound and how does it work?

A veterinary ultrasound is a diagnostic imaging tool that uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the inside of an animal's body. It is non-invasive and works by sending sound waves into the body, which then bounce off tissues and organs, creating echoes that are captured and transformed into real-time images for evaluation.

When is an ultrasound typically recommended for pets?

An ultrasound is typically recommended when a veterinarian needs to evaluate internal organs for conditions such as tumors, cysts, stones, or inflammation. It is also used for pregnancy diagnosis, assessing heart conditions (echocardiography), and guiding needle biopsies. It's particularly useful for diagnosing conditions that may not be easily detected through physical examination or other imaging methods like X-rays.

Is anesthesia required for pets undergoing an ultrasound?

Anesthesia is not usually required for a standard ultrasound procedure, as it is painless and non-invasive. However, if a pet is particularly anxious or uncooperative, a veterinarian may administer a sedative to calm the animal and ensure the safety of both the pet and the staff. For more invasive procedures guided by ultrasound, such as biopsies, local or general anesthesia may be necessary.

How should I prepare my pet for an ultrasound examination?

Preparation for an ultrasound may include fasting your pet for 8 to 12 hours to ensure a clear view of the abdominal organs, as food and waste could obscure the images. Your veterinarian may also advise you to limit water intake. Always follow the specific instructions provided by your vet, as preparation can vary depending on the type of ultrasound and the area being examined.

Are there any risks associated with ultrasounds for animals?

Ultrasound examinations are considered very safe for animals, with no known risks or harmful side effects. The procedure does not involve radiation, as opposed to X-rays, making it a safer option for repeated use and for sensitive cases, such as pregnancy. It's a preferred diagnostic tool for its safety and efficacy in providing valuable information about an animal's health.

How long does a veterinary ultrasound take, and when will I get results?

The duration of a veterinary ultrasound can vary, typically ranging from 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the complexity of the examination and the cooperation of the pet. In many cases, veterinarians can provide preliminary results immediately after the procedure, with a more detailed report following after further analysis, which could take a few days.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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