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Veterinary Ultrasound: What’s going on?


In response to my discussion of ultrasound for pets , a friend who works at a veterinary practice sent me an e-mail. She expressed concern, because the practice recently made the decision to cut down on using a specialist for their patients’ ultrasound exams; instead, they have purchased a machine that the general veterinarians will be using to perform ultrasound studies. I asked her how they planned to train the vets to do this, and she responded that the company that sold them the machine would be training them in its use. 

When a veterinary practice purchases a new ultrasound machine, an employee of the company selling the equipment will spend a day or two showing the new owners how to use it. If your pet became ill, for example with sudden vomiting, and needed an ultrasound exam which might save his life by helping to discover an intestinal blockage, gastric ulcer, tumor in the liver, or inflammation of the pancreas, would you like the study to be done by a veterinary radiologist who has completed a three-year residency program devoted to honing this skill, or someone who a company rep has spent six hours training which buttons to push on highly complex equipment? 

Did you know that during training to become a specialist,  a veterinary radiologist is required to perform at least 1,000 ultrasound studies? Think about that: someone who has done at least one thousand ultrasound exams under the supervision of board-certified radiologists before becoming a certified specialist themself, versus someone who just bought a machine last week. Bear in mind, unless you speak up and protect your pet, you may not be given the choice of who performs the ultrasound study on your companion. It's important for pet owners to be aware of the skill required to perform an effective ultrasound exam. To produce clear and accurate images, find subtle abnormalities, and especially to interpret what is seen: these require training, knowledge, and experience. 

Until the veterinary profession begins to police itself, only you can protect your pet. Any time a procedure is recommended for your pet, speak up, ask questions, and be sure to find out who will be doing it. Whether it’s an ultrasound, endoscopy, surgery, or another medical procedure, your pet deserves the best—and only you can make sure she gets the best care. 

After I read my friend’s e-mail, I wrote to her and asked her why the practice had made the decision to stop referring patients to a specialist for ultrasound exams. Her answer was simple: “Money”.


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