Ultrasound is quickly becoming a standard in veterinary medicine, because it allows a practitioner to evaluate patients in a non-invasive way.
This technology - usually used in conjunction with X-rays - is often recommended when a patient is having chronic problems or when abnormalities are identified on an X-ray.
An ultrasound allows veterinarians to see fine tissue detail. In the past, this level of tissue assessment could be achieved only surgically. The cost can typically range from $150 to $300 depending on whether the ultrasound is performed by a general practitioner or a radiology specialist.
X-rays are less expensive, about $90 for the first X-ray and $40 for additional X-rays.
Most animals are evaluated while awake, but occasionally a patient requires anesthesia. All that is needed is to shave the pet's hair at the location to be evaluated. The procedure usually takes 15 to 45 minutes. Small animals such as dogs and cats are then placed gently on their side or back, and assistants hold them in place during the scan. Larger animals such as cattle and horses are evaluated in a standing position. Images are saved from the identified organs, and live loops can also be recorded, so organs can be looked at in motion. Measurements can be taken. Images can also be sent to internal medicine, cardiology or other specialists for additional evaluation.
In small animal medicine, usually dogs and cats, ultrasound is most commonly used to examine tissues in the abdomen. In this cavity, one is able to view in great detail the surfaces of vital organs and tissues such as the intestines, kidneys, liver, spleen, bladder and pancreas. It is also used to look for cysts and masses, identify abnormal pockets of fluid, locate obstructions, and guide in taking samples of fluid and tissues. Ultrasound can also be used to confirm pregnancy and monitor the vitality of the puppies and kittens.
Ultrasound also allows for evaluation of the heart. One can examine the chamber sizes as well as the function and contractility of the heart muscle. Additionally it is used to visualize the heart valve surfaces. Each valve is examined for thickening as well as abnormal blood flow. The flow velocity through a specific valve can be measured to see if rates are elevated.
Ultrasound is used in large animal medicine as well. In horses, it is considered the gold standard for evaluation of ligaments and tendons. It is also used to monitor healing during rehabilitation. Abdominal ultrasound is commonly used, as it often shows more detail than X-rays. In horses and cattle, it is frequently used to examine the reproductive tract. It is even sometimes used to evaluate the lens of the eye.
The next time your dog or cat is ill, don't be surprised if your veterinarian recommends an ultrasound scan.
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