The use of ultrasound in small animal veterinary medicine has grown rapidly in recent years. This is a non-invasive way to make an early diagnosis and allows for better management of diseases. Without the aid of ultrasound, many diseases such as pancreatitis or gall bladder disease or splenic tumors previously went undetected for months to even years.
What is ultrasound?
An ultrasound examination is an imaging technique in which internal organs of the body can be visualized by reading “echoes” of ultrasonic waves directed through the tissues. Unlike x-rays which involve some small degree of radiation, ultrasound waves are considered to be entirely safe. Many people are familiar with ultrasound use in human pregnancy to evaluate the health of an unborn child.
What is the difference between ultrasound and other types of imaging?
X-rays can see the outline of internal organs, but ultrasound can see “through” organs in a non-invasive way. This can help with the detection of internal tumors, can see the thickness of tissue layers, can check for the presence of abnormal fluid where it doesn’t belong, and can look for evidence of inflammation or infection inside an organ (like the kidneys or pancreas or gall bladder).
Which parts of the body do you ultrasound?
The list of organs that can be evaluated with ultrasound is long! The basic abdominal ultrasound examines the liver, gall bladder, spleen, stomach, kidneys, urinary bladder, intestines, lymph nodes and pancreas. Finding tumors and/or fluid in the abdomen and thorax is also an important part of the ultrasound exam. Specialists can use ultrasound to check retinas, prostate, and some tendons.
What about the heart?
Using the ultrasound to evaluate a pet’s heart has a more specific name: an echocardiogram. An echocardiogram offers tremendous detail about how the heart is functioning. It can reveal problems with heart valves, heart chamber dilation or thickening, as well as tumors located on or around the heart. The most important part of the echocardiogram is that it captures images of the heart in motion; we can use color flow doppler and pulse-wave doppler to study murmurs and other defects. This assessment allows for early medical (sometimes even surgical) intervention, prolonging a pet’s quality and quantity of life.
Does the procedure have any drawbacks?
Ultrasound examinations are of little value in the examination of bones, or organs that contain air. Ultrasound waves will not pass through bone or air and therefore it cannot be used to examine the skeleton or lungs. Fortunately x-ray can be used to evaluate most routine bone and lung diseases.
Do you need to be specially trained to use ultrasound?
Yes, the machine is totally operator-dependent. Our doctors enjoy attending continuing education in ultrasound whenever possible. We have invested in the most advanced ultrasound technology available in the veterinary market today. We also have the capability of consulting with board-certified cardiologists and radiologists, and a board-certified ultrasound/cardiology specialist comes to our hospital once or twice weekly to conduct exams.