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What to Expect if Your Pet Needs an Ultrasound


Animals come to CARES needing an ultrasound for a wide variety of reasons. If a pet is vomiting, has changes in their blood work (for instance elevated kidney or liver values), has been losing weight or acting lethargic, a veterinarian may recommend an ultrasound in order for us to get a good look at the organs inside the body. Sometimes, an ultrasound is needed to recheck the status of an ongoing disease.  Occasionally we will ultrasound ligaments or tendons. If a mass is suspected from x-rays or a physical examination, a veterinarian may direct a patient to CARES for more insight through ultrasound. X-rays are great for giving us information about the outline of organs or the appearance of lungs and bones, but for the fine architecture of the organs, ultrasound gives us a more detailed view inside. Ultrasound offers non-invasive access into the body that doesn’t cause any pain, doesn’t use ionizing radiation and lets us watch real time motion (for instance the movement of gut contractions or blood moving through vessels).

Here are 6 things you can expect, if your pet needs an ultrasound.

1) Gas is the enemy of ultrasound.  It makes the sound waves bounce back, obscuring the picture.  Fasting your pet helps us see into the GI tract better, producing less gas and improving the amount of information we can get from the study. If your pet is Diabetic or has problems with low blood sugar (causing seizures), please consult with the radiologist before fasting.

2) We will need to clip the hair from the area getting imaged in order to “see in.” Ultrasound examinations require a smooth surface in order send legible sound waves into the body.

3) When we ultrasound your pet, your loved one is in a dark, quiet room, gently positioned in a soft, padded trough. We apply warmed gel to the skin so that your pet is comfortable. We make every effort to create a “spa-like” atmosphere for your pet. We can obtain a more diagnostic examination if your pet is calm and relaxed.

4) Occasionally, a pet is so nervous that we might request some sedation to help them feel more comfortable, decrease wiggling, stress or panting. Too much panting not only causes a lot GI gas, but also a lot of movement, making visualization of subtle detail challenging.

5) Ultrasound is great for many things, but sometimes works best for getting a diagnosis when used hand in hand with other tests (like blood work) or other imaging modalities, like x-rays, CT (CAT scan) or MRI.

6) An ultrasound examination may take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on what is wrong with your pet or how large your pet is. If we decide that we need to get tissue samples (fine needle aspirates), then it can take a bit longer as well. Sometimes emergencies come through to CARES and need to be taken care of in an expedited manner. Please be patient when that occurs, since we would do the same for your pet if the need arose.

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by:  Jessica Basseches, DVM, DACVR