Ultrasound Screening

Dr. Woody Dudley, DVM

How does ultrasound work?

Ultrasound, also referred to as a sonogram, is a type of imaging that uses sound waves. The Doctor applies a non-irritating gel and probe against different areas of your pet’s body and eyes to visualize internal soft tissues. The probe produces inaudible sound waves. The sound wave bounces off the internal organs and returns to the probe which creates an image. Fluid is black, and tissues are varying shades of white and gray. Ultrasound is not effective at evaluating bone and air-filled structures.

Why should my pet have an Ultrasound Screening?

Our patients can’t tell where it hurts. An Ultrasound can show what a patient can’t tell you. Ultrasound, because it uses sound waves, is a great tool for diagnosing many of the health conditions our pet’s face. Ultrasound is a useful extension of the physical exam to allow visualization of areas that cannot be seen or palpated. Using Ultrasound as a part of a regular Health Exam is a good way to pick up health issues early. An early diagnosis often has a less costly and better outcome resulting in a longer life.   Early detection or screening with Ultrasound will prevent costly visits to the emergency room which may have a poorer outcome.

As part of everyday Senior Screening (patients over 7 years of age) an Ultrasound will pick up many senior ailments long before symptoms are obvious. Early diagnosis leads to better outcomes.

Urinary issues are seen every day in canine and feline medicine; Ultrasound is a sensitive test for picking up urinary cancer, urinary stones, prostate problems, and kidney diseases.

Pre-anesthesia Screening is useful for evaluating anesthesia risk. A pre-anesthesia Ultrasound helps us know how prepared the essential organs needed for anesthesia, heart, lungs, liver and kidneys are functioning.  This will also customize the type and dose of anesthesia that is best for each individual patient.

Heart Disease Screening is recommended for all cats, Heart Murmurs in dogs, Dobermans, Boxers, large breed dogs, King Cavalier Charles Spaniels and Senior Patients. Ultrasound is the most sensitive imaging readily available for detecting, monitoring, and treating Heart Murmurs (Valve Diseases), Feline Cardiomyopathy (thickening of heart muscle), and Doberman, Boxer, and other large breed dogs for Dilated Cardiomyopathy. 1 out of 7 cats has Cardiomyopathy, 29% of senior cats have Cardiomyopathy. 58% of Doberman Pinschers develop Cardiomyopathy. They should be screened at a young age so that medication can be started in time to delay heart failure and live longer.  All Heart Murmur cases should be screened. Dobermans, Boxers, and high-risk breeds should be screened starting at 2 years of age. Cats should be screened as early as possible especially pure-bred cats. Early diagnosis and early treatment can prolong a pet’s life.

Cancer Screening is recommended in Senior patients over 7 years of age. Ultrasound is effective at picking up tumors in the chest and abdomen. Early diagnosis often results in simpler treatment and better outcome.

Congenital Disease Screening is recommended in young cats and dogs for certain breeds. Ultrasound is used to diagnose Polycystic Kidneys in Ragdolls and Persian line pure bred cats. Liver Shunt screening is recommended at 2 years of age and occurs in small dog breeds such as the Schnauzer, Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso, Cairn Terriers, and Poodles. Yorkshire terriers have the highest risk; Yorkshire Terriers are 36 times more likely to have Liver Shunts than all other dog breeds combined (University of Tennessee). Congenital Heart Disease is detected by Ultrasound.

For sick patients, Ultrasound is helpful for diagnosing the following conditions:

  1. Chronic diarrhea
  2. Weight loss
  3. Metastatic cancer (the spread of cancer to other parts of the body)
  4. Swollen abdomen
  5. Abdominal fluid
  6. Respiratory Symptoms
  7. Subtle Symptoms such as lethargy and poor appetite
  8. Painful Eyes, Blindness
  9. Noninvasive biopsy techniques that requires minimal cost and minimal sedation
  10. Emergencies and Critical Cases
  11. Sudden onset of vomiting
  12. Ingestion of foreign bodies

What advantage does Ultrasound have over other imaging such as X-rays, CT, and MRI?

Ultrasound Screening is inexpensive, quick, noninvasive, and helps direct further testing while minimizing unnecessary testing. Unlike X-rays there are no safety issues with radiation. In most cases, anesthesia is unnecessary and minimal sedation is required. Ultrasound can be done along with the initial exam to direct further testing and treatment. Often Ultrasound Screening will determine if more expensive procedures such as X-rays are needed. Ultrasound will help localize what soft tissues need attention, so that the Doctor can run the tests that will give the most valuable information. Often a quicker diagnosis can be made with emergency situations. A Fast Ultrasound is useful at determining whether illnesses require 24-hour emergency care.

Serial Ultrasounds are used for following the progress of treatment at a fraction of the cost required for X-rays. Examples include the hour to hour and day to day progress of soft tissue surgery, Heart Disease, Urinary Disease, Pneumonia, Cancer, Gastrointestinal Contents/Obstructions and Internal Bleeding.

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