What is an ultrasound?
An ultrasound is a safe, non-invasive method of visualizing internal organs. Sound waves (higher than we can hear) are transmitted from a special probe pressed against the skin. They pass through tissues at different rates and then bounce back to be read by the probe. What appears on the monitor is a dynamic image of what is happening within the body, directly beneath the probe.
During an abdominal ultrasound exam, the probe is slowly moved around the abdomen, displaying dynamic images slice by slice as you travel along the abdomen, and allowing us to examine the internal structure and layering of different organs. The lungs can’t be examined through ultrasound imaging because sound waves don’t penetrate air very well, but it is great for imaging the heart, abdominal organs, joints, and tendons.
Currently, in veterinary medicine, radiography is commonly used for assessing the chest and abdomen, and the ultrasound exam is meant to complement it. Whereas x-rays have the advantage of providing a good overall picture of the abdomen, they do not show as much fine detail as you can get from an ultrasound exam.
What are the benefits?
While commonly used for pregnancy diagnosis, an ultrasound can also give useful information on the structure of the liver, spleen, pancreas, evaluate the wall thickness of the gastrointestinal tract, and look at the architecture of the adrenal glands, kidneys, and bladder. It is advantageous as it is non-invasive, non-painful, and generally requires no anesthesia.
Patients need to lie relatively still, often on their backs in a soft trough, while the exam takes place. For maximal results, the patient’s abdomen will be shaved so that gel can be applied to enhance the connection between the ultrasound probe and the skin. Sometimes sedation may be used if patients are too anxious to lie still, allowing for a better quality exam and less stress to the patient.
What cases/patients could benefit?
An abdominal ultrasound is often the next step following bloodwork and radiographs to help differentiate possible causes underlying liver disease, kidney disease, chronic vomiting or diarrhea, or adrenal gland disease. It may be the next step recommended once a particular system has been identified, and allow us to investigate organs, identify abnormalities, take samples of any abnormal structures, or simply to rule out other possible underlying conditions.
To learn more about our ultrasound services and if it is the right option for your pet, please give us a call at 902.443.9385