If an ultrasound is recommended for your pet, it’s natural to wonder exactly why your pet needs this test, and what you can expect. In human medicine, most of us think about ultrasounds in conjunction with pregnancy, but there are many other reasons why humans and animals alike may be in need of an ultrasound.
Ultrasounds are a safe, effective diagnostic exam that helps us look at your pet’s body. These tests work by aiming high-frequency sound waves at the part of the body that needs to be examined. The sound waves, which are too high to be detected by the ears, echo in detailed patterns off of the body’s tissues, and are then interpreted as images by a veterinarian.
Ultrasounds have certain advantages over other diagnostic imaging techniques. At TrueCare for Pets, our veterinarians use ultrasounds specifically to examine the soft tissues and internal organs. In addition to the basic structures we might detect on an x-ray, ultrasounds provide additional details, like texture, blood flow, and other aspects of the body parts that need inspection. Additionally, ultrasounds have the ability to capture moving images, which is one reason for its great value in monitoring a developing fetus. Our veterinarians might perform further tests if a mass or other abnormality is revealed through an ultrasound, like blood work which can help us to determine whether a disease or organ dysfunction is present.
Why does my pet need an ultrasound?
Ultrasound exams allow our veterinarians to examine the size, shape, location, and general appearance of your pet’s internal organs. An ultrasound test may be performed for many different reasons, including:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Chronic infections
- Abnormal blood work
- Change in urinary habits
- Suspected fluid in the chest or abdomen
In older pets, an ultrasound may also be completed to establish a baseline for future testing, or to recheck the status of a previous problem. If your pet is scheduled for surgery or a biopsy, an ultrasound is typically done prior to these procedures. And lastly, an ultrasound might be done for the same reason we commonly associate this exam with humans – your pet might be pregnant!
What if my veterinarian finds a mass during an ultrasound exam?
While it can be upsetting and scary to hear that a mass was found during an ultrasound exam, this is not automatically bad news. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find masses within the organs. Oftentimes, these masses are completely normal and benign. If we suspect that the mass is malignant (cancerous), we’ll do additional testing, like a biopsy, to determine if this is indeed the case.
What happens during an ultrasound exam?
During the exam, an ultrasound machine will send soundwaves through your pet’s body. The “echoes” from these waves are used to form an image of your pet’s interior organs, like the liver, kidney, and intestines. In order to obtain the best possible image, we need to establish good contact between the ultrasound probe and your pet’s skin. Soundwaves don’t typically travel well through hair or fur. As a result, we may need to partially shave your pet’s fur and hair, but it should regrow fully within three to four weeks.
Is an ultrasound exam painful?
No! An ultrasound is a virtually painless procedure. A warmed, water-based gel will be applied to the area we’re examining, and the ultrasound probe will be gently moved along your pet’s skin. Light pressure is applied, but your pet will in no way experience discomfort. In fact, many pets fall asleep during this exam!
What happens after the exam?
Our animal hospital veterinarians will print out the ultrasound images captured during the exam, and discuss the findings with you, as well as recommendations for next steps.