We can use ultrasound to examine the shape and size of internal structures and even watch blood flowing through the blood vessels. It’s painless and usually only requires some hair to be clipped away to allow the probe to rest on the skin.
Why does my pet need an ultrasound?
Your vet might recommend an ultrasound scan as part of an investigation into symptoms such as vomiting, straining to go to the toilet, a full-looking abdomen, collapse, weight loss and a host of others. If your pet is unwell, the history you’re able to provide, along with a clinical examination and sometimes blood tests, may suggest that a particular body system isn’t working properly. Ultrasound scanning is a painless way to look inside your pet’s body to find out what’s going on.
We can scan many parts of the body, from abdominal organs, to hearts, to musculoskeletal structures – even eyes can be scanned. Using ultrasound, we can take measurements, such as the thickness of the intestinal wall. We can examine the texture of organs, such as the spleen, when we want to know whether growths or cysts are present. We can look for material in hollow organs, such as stones in the kidneys, ureters or bladder, or fluid in the uterus, when we are checking for pyometra (an infection in the uterus). We can also use ultrasound to spot foreign material, for instance, when investigating a swelling or abscess.
Ultrasound scanning in pregnancy for cats and dogs
We can use ultrasound to check for pregnancy and to tell whether foetuses are alive.
Counting the number of foetuses can be unreliable because the uterus is a mobile, tubular structure in dogs and cats, but scanning can give an indication of how many puppies or kittens to expect.
Echocardiography is a specialised area of ultrasound scanning involving the heart. We can measure the size of the four heart chambers and the thickness and texture of the walls, and we can see the heart in action.
Using a special kind of ultrasound scanner, we can watch the blood flowing through the heart and its vessels, and we can see whether any blood is leaking back through the valves (causing a heart murmur).
This type of scan may be performed in your local Vets4Pets clinic if one of the vets has undertaken extra training and study and if the scanner can assess blood flow.
Sometimes, your vet may be able to arrange for the procedure to be carried out in the clinic by a visiting expert, who may bring their own scanner with them. Alternatively, your vet can refer your pet to another clinic or hospital with the necessary expertise and equipment.
Ultrasound-guided biopsies for pets
We can use ultrasound to help us obtain biopsies from internal organs without needing surgery. This can be useful when we’ve seen changes to an internal organ and we want to look at some of the cells or tissue in the laboratory to help us understand what’s going on.
The ultrasound scanner enables us to see where we’re placing the tip of the biopsy tool or needle. Sometimes, this requires your pet to have a short sedative to help them to relax while the procedure is performed.
What happens when my pet has an ultrasound?
When your vet books your pet in for their ultrasound scan, they’ll let you know whether your pet can eat and drink before their procedure. This can affect how easily some body structures can be assessed and it means your pet may already be prepared if they should need sedation. Most pets can remain fully conscious during their ultrasound scan but, for anxious pets, it can help if they’re given some sedation to help them to relax while the scan is performed.
Normally, pets stay in the clinic for a few hours while they have their scan. The process is usually something like this:
- Your vet team will explain the process to you, but, typically, you might expect your pet to be admitted in the morning, with either the vet or nurse. During an admission appointment, your contact details for that day will be confirmed, so that your vet can get in touch if they need to discuss anything while your pet is in the clinic. Your vet will explain what is going to happen and you’ll be able to consent and to ask any questions.
- Your pet will be taken through to the ward, where they’ll have a bed for the day.
- Your pet will normally have had some hair clipped away from the area where the ultrasound probe has been placed. Ultrasound doesn’t pass easily through hair, and the probe needs to be able to slide across the skin to work properly. Depending upon which structures have been assessed, there may be more than one clipped area, and these sometimes need to be quite large. Your pet may also have had a small patch on their leg clipped if they have had sedation, intravenous medication or fluids. The hair will grow back gradually.
- They’ll have their scan and, depending on what’s been arranged, your vet may ring you to discuss their findings and the ongoing plan, or you’ll have been asked to call to arrange a going-home appointment, at which your vet will go through everything with you. Pregnancy scans may be performed during a consultation. A longer appointment can be booked to enable the scan to be done.
Where to get ultrasound for my pet?
Most Vets4Pets clinics have ultrasound scanners, so your pet may be able to have their scan in the clinic.
Sometimes, ultrasound scans need to be carried out by a vet with extra qualifications in diagnostic imaging. Your vet will let you know whether your pet’s scan can be performed in the clinic, either by your usual vet team, or by a visiting expert, or whether they will need to refer your pet to another setting.