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Ultrasound for pets: What you should know about a powerful safe non-invasive diagnostic tool
Ultrasound is a powerful, non-invasive, non-painful diagnostic tool for humans and for pets, By Commack, NY Veterinary expert Diane Levitan, VMD, Diplomate American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
What is diagnostic ultrasound? Ultrasound for diagnostic purposes is the non-invasive, safe computer interpretation of information from sound waves reflected off body parts. Using an ultrasound machine, an ultrasound probe is placed on the body, sound waves travel through the body tissues. The sound bounces back at different frequencies based on the tissue it hits and then a computer turns this information into an image representing what is seen inside the body. The ultrasound images show up on the computer screen in real time and depict the exact motion seen in the body (such as the heart motion and blood moving through organs.) Ultrasound can also detect motion, speed and direction of blood flow.
Most are familiar with ultrasound for use in pregnancy in humans, and it is this exact machine and technology that we use for the diagnosis of many conditions in animals, including pregnancy and reproduction. Unlike x-rays, ultrasound can see the texture and architecture of internal organs. It sees inside the organs, not just their outlines Why would a pet need ultrasound? Ultrasound can be used to image any bodily tissues to aid in diagnosis. It allows imaging of the heart, tendons, joints, all external soft tissues as well as the internal organs in the abdomen such as the liver, kidneys, spleen, urinary bladder, gall bladder, adrenal glands, pancreas, lymph nodes, pancreas and much more. With ultrasound it is possible to detect the presence of abnormalities and follow progression or changes in any of these tissues such as tumors, abscesses, irregular masses, heart defects, fluid buildup, kidney and bladder stones, pregnancy and reasons for pregnancy failure.
Ultrasound can also be used to guide a biopsy instrument to sample tissue from any organ that can be imaged without having to do surgery. It can be used to image organs during surgery such as aiding in brain tumor visualization or other masses that cannot be seen from the outer surface. How is it performed in pets? Ultrasound is usually performed with the pet awake and lying down. Often times the pet’s hair may need to be shaved and alcohol and gel are used to enhance ultrasound conduction. This is a completely painless and non-invasive diagnostic procedure that lasts only a few minutes.
Can any veterinarian do ultrasound? Ultrasound requires great skill and practice. Advanced studies in operation of the tool and interpretation of images are necessary to reliably use this modality. Ultrasound is part of the specialty of the American College of Veterinary Radiology and many veterinary internal medicine specialists and veterinary cardiologists are trained in some forms of diagnostic ultrasound. Imaging by a technician is possible, however, not often recommended as they are not medically trained and can miss subtleties that can be important. Ultrasound diagnosis is one of the most valuable tools available to veterinarians today for the accurate and safe diagnosis of pet ailments today. Most veterinarians do not have their own equipment; rather, they will often refer to a specialist or have a specialist come to their practice to perform the study. If your veterinarian does not offer ultrasound, please ask them for a referral to a qualified veterinarian.