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Ultrasound for Animals

Ultrasound is a wonderful technology that has saved the lives of many animals. It's good for you to understand what it is and who performs it on animals just in case your pet ever needs it.

Ultrasound scans, also called sonograms, use high-frequency sound waves to form images of tissues within in the body. Ultrasound technology is similar to the sonar used by bats and ships at sea. The sound waves are reflected by the patient’s tissues, and these reflected sound waves are recorded and displayed as a visual image. This occurs in “real time”, meaning that the images are immediately displayed on a screen that looks like a television or computer monitor. Because the images are displayed in real time, the doctor can not only form pictures of the organs and tissues, she can also observe certain things as they happen, such as blood flow, heart beats, and other activity within the body.

Abdominal ultrasound is used when a veterinarian suspects an animal has disease in one of the organs or in the abdominal cavity itself. For example, the veterinarian may have discovered an abnormality on a blood test that indicates a problem with an organ such as the liver or kidneys, or the veterinarian may feel something unusual in the abdomen on a physical examination. The animal may have symptoms suggesting a problem in the abdomen, such as vomiting or poor appetite.

Ultrasound can be really useful to help figure out why an animal is vomiting. When a dog or cat has been vomiting, one of the things veterinarians worry about is that the animal may have eaten something that is causing an intestinal obstruction. Animals eat all sorts of crazy things: toys, corncobs, rubber bands, shoes…you name it.

Although we cannot always see objects within the intestinal tract using ultrasound, we are at least often able to determine that there is some type of obstruction. With the amazing machines used today, we can often see something as small as a string that an animal has swallowed and that is tangled in the intestines. By confirming our suspicions quickly, we can rush the patient to surgery before it’s too late.

Who performs ultrasound scans on pets?

Veterinary radiologists receive the most training in performing ultrasound exams. If one is available in your area, a radiologist is a good choice. Veterinary internal medicine specialists also receive ultrasound training during their residencies, and in addition have advanced knowledge of the diseases of the abdominal organs, and so are very good at interpreting the results of the ultrasound scan and making recommendations. If your pet ever needs an ultrasound, your veterinarian can refer you to a radiologist or internal medicine specialist.

Anyone can buy an ultrasound machine but there is a world of difference between a radiologist who completed an intensive three-year residency program and a doctor who took a weekend course or just bought a machine for his practice. Unfortunately, an unskilled ultrasound exam can do more harm than good, since inaccurate results may lead to incorrect diagnosis or treatment. Make sure to protect your pet by having an expert perform the ultrasound exam.

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