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Ultrasound imaging on small dog

Ultrasound imaging is just one of the diagnostic tools known as medical imaging. Ultrasounds are becoming very common in veterinary medicine. They give us so much information! To answer the question of whether a pet needs an ultrasound we must first talk about what that is.

The Description

Diagnostic ultrasound imaging is a method that uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of structures within your pet’s body. The resulting image is a sonogram.  An ultrasound produces live pictures of structures inside the body. For more information visit our website.

What is the difference between an X-ray and an Ultrasound

Even though both are medical imaging, the difference is easy to explain.  Ultrasounds let us see soft tissue structures. You can also see the body working in motion.  Think of seeing a heart beating in action versus the still image an x-ray produces.

An x-ray allows us to visualize hard tissue and any part of the body that has air in it.  We use x-rays to see bones, teeth and lungs. We can see other structures with x-rays but this is a generalized explanation. An x-ray also shows air/gas patterns in the gastrointestinal tract or foreign objects that your pet may have eaten.

Foreign objects like this earring are better viewed with an x-ray instead of ultrasound imaging.

An x-ray does not require sedation unless the process is complex and we know your pet will not tolerate staying still. Ultrasound does not require sedation unless your pet is fractious or very anxious.

Neither of these procedures causes pain.  To perform an ultrasound a veterinarian or a technician places a probe, called a transducer, on your pet’s body using a slight bit of pressure.

What types of ultrasounds are done on pets?

There are generally two types of ultrasounds for pets. One is an abdominal ultrasound. We use this type to examine structures within the abdomen. The second type of ultrasound visualizes the heart in action. We call this an echocardiogram or echo for short. Let’s talk about echos at a later time.

Keep in mind that while imaging these organs is extremely helpful, the first tool in our diagnostic toolbox does not usually start with an ultrasound.

Diagnostic Tools

The easiest and most common diagnostic tool is laboratory testing.  Testing to include blood work and urinalysis is the first and least invasive way for us to look inside your pet’s body.  Blood testing tells us how organs are functioning. It also tells us the kinds and numbers of blood cells in the body.

A urinalysis helps to determine kidney function. It also tells us whether an infection is present in the bladder. In addition it aids in the screening for diseases like bladder cancer and diabetes. Using an ultrasound allows us to obtain a sterile urine sample that we can send off for culture when needed.

When is Ultrasound Imaging Appropriate?

Your veterinarian will tell you when an ultrasound may aid in diagnosing your pet’s illness.  Most of the time your pet needs an ultrasound when blood work or an exam shows an abnormality. If further blood work does not help with a diagnosis, an x-ray or ultrasound may be in order.

Abnormalities on a physical exam or from an x-ray may indicate that your pet needs an ultrasound. An ultrasound is also helpful as a screening tool as your pet ages. One of our doctors brings her own dog in for screening with ultrasound every year. 

At Hill Country Animal Hospital we can perform “screening” ultrasounds on site.  Our formally trained and certified technician performs these types of ultrasounds. This means that she can perform an ultrasound to determine if abnormalities are present. Some pets require a more diagnostic ultrasound from a specialist or they may require further attention from a surgeon or internist depending on the outcome of the ultrasound. If you would like to learn a little more about ultrasounds visit Texas A&M University Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

How to Prepare Your Pet for Ultrasound Imaging

The only thing you really need to do to prepare your pet or an ultrasound is to withhold food from him or her for about 6-8 hours. The reason we ask you to fast your pet is because we need to see the structures of the abdomen which include the stomach. If the stomach is full of food it can interfere with the detail in the images we are able to see.

As always, if you have questions about your pet’s ultrasound or need to schedule an appointment, give us a call at 210-695-4455.