What is Ultrasound?
Veterinary ultrasound is a less invasive and painless procedure to explore a patient's soft tissue abnormalities, internal organs, gastrointestinal tract, vasculature and lymphatic system; The liver, gallbladder, kidneys, adrenal glands, spleen, urinary bladder, pancreas, stomach, intestines, lymph nodes and blood vessels of the abdomen can be readily imaged. Ultrasound is also often used on an emergency basis after trauma to look for fluid accumulations and to be able to monitor the extent or progression of abdominal bleeding.
Ultrasound can be one of the most valuable tools in your veterinarian’s armamentarium when assessing a patient with an enlarged or painful abdomen or with suspicious changes in routine lab tests. Pancreatitis, a common and sometimes lifethreatening disease, can often be confirmed, and sometimes its severity can be determined by ultrasound. Cancers can often be detected early enough to allow surgical removal before metastasis (spread to other organs) occurs. Bladder stones and/or kidney stones (even some that do not show up on radiographs) can be found and a thorough assessment for urethral or ureteral obstruction can be performed. Other conditions that are often recognized with ultrasound include infected gallbladders, enlarged adrenal glands, kidneys damaged by toxins such as antifreeze, diffuse liver disease, lymphoma and other cancers, enlarged lymph nodes and reproductive tract abnormalities such as an infected uterus or inflamed prostate gland.
Sometimes the abdomen is swollen because of an accumulation of fluid around the abdominal organs; fluid diminishes the capability of radiographs, but ultrasound is excellent in determining whether the cause is a poorly functioning heart or disease in the abdominal organs. Ultrasound can also be used to look at the heart. An echocardiogram is used to measure the walls of the heart, evaluate the individual heart valves, assess systemic pressures, pulmonary pressures and contractility.
Ultrasound guided biopsies are commonly used as a minimally invasive way to get accurate samples of diseased organs while avoiding blood vessels and other fragile structures. Often these biopsies prevent the need for surgery to diagnose an animal’s condition. You can also use the ultrasound as a guide to obtain samples of fluid, such as urine or abdominal/thoracic effusion. Being guided by the ultrasound is safer for the patient because of the extra assurance of avoiding vital structures.
Needless to say, ultrasound has become a very important part of keeping our pets healthy. With the development of newer equipment and new techniques, more and more detailed information can be obtained about a pet’s health to easily and accurately detect previously hidden diseases.