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Why does my pet need an abdominal ultrasound?

Ultrasound for dog or cat

An ultrasound, also known as ultrasonography or sonographic imaging, is one of the non-invasive imaging modalities that are used in veterinary medicine. The procedure provides images of the internal structures of the body by recording echoes of ultrasonic waves. This means, your vet can look inside your pet’s body without having to perform surgery. An abdominal ultrasound enables your vet to have a closer look at the organs in the abdominal cavity such as the liver, kidneys, stomach, spleen, pancreas, adrenal glands, intestines, bladder, uterus, ovaries, prostate, and lymph nodes. Keep reading to learn more!

What is an abdominal ultrasound?

Ultrasound was first used by veterinarians for pregnancy diagnosis. However, the technique is now being widely used in evaluating the heart as well as assessing the abdominal organs. The procedure is also extremely useful in diagnosing the presence of cysts and tumors.

While x-rays show the size, shape, and location of specific organs in the body, an abdominal ultrasound shows the architecture of the contents of the abdomen. It allows a more detailed view of what’s happening within your pet’s abdominal organs.

Before the advent of ultrasound, veterinarians had to do exploratory surgery to find out what was happening inside the abdomen. This is an invasive procedure that is not without potential risks to the animal.

How does an ultrasound work?

The ultrasound equipment directs a beam of high-frequency sound waves into a part of your pet’s body that your vet is interested in. The high-frequency sound waves may be reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through the tissues in the area of interest. The sound waves that are reflected are the ones that are converted into an image when they return as echoes to the probe.

On the monitor, the image is displayed as a 2-dimensional or 3-dimensional image of the tissues that are being examined. In an abdominal ultrasound, the image allows examination of the surface and the internal parts of abdominal organs including the size, shape, texture, location, and blood supply.

When is an abdominal ultrasound used on dogs and cats?

An ultrasound is generally recommended when x-rays alone won’t provide enough information to help a vet arrive at a medical decision. Pets suffering from chronic vomiting or severe abdominal pain are best evaluated with an ultrasound. The procedure can also be used to help determine the specific location of abdominal masses. If blood work shows elevations in kidney and liver enzymes, an ultrasound can help continue looking for potential causes.

Depending on the results of the ultrasound, your vet may recommend additional diagnostics, such as exploratory surgery or endoscopy, to confirm an initial diagnosis and clarify ultrasound findings.

How an Abdominal Ultrasound is Performed

When your pet needs to have an abdominal ultrasound, fasting may be necessary. Your vet or the clinic staff may give you instructions not to give food to your pet for 8-12 hours prior to the procedure. Water and medications may be given but you should ask your vet first.

To perform an abdominal ultrasound, the abdomen of your pet will be shaved and a special conducting gel is applied onto the shaved surface. Shaving your pet’s belly allows good contact between the skin and the ultrasound probe. The probe, which is a part of the ultrasound machine, emits sound waves and obtains the image. The procedure usually takes between 30-60 minutes. The ultrasound technician will collect several images which are then submitted to a radiologist for review and interpretation.

Some pets undergo an ultrasound without any sedation. However, pets that show anxiety or are experiencing pain may be sedated. If your pet had sedation, you will be given special instructions on what to expect and do at the time of discharge.

Why Your Vet Recommends an Abdominal Ultrasound

The most common reasons why your vet may want your pet to undergo an abdominal ultrasound include the following:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unexplained chronic digestive upsets (vomiting, diarrhea, constipation)
  • Fluid in the chest and abdomen
  • Evaluate the urinary tract for abnormalities in the urine (including changes in urinary habits)
  • Abnormal results of blood work or x-rays
  • A mass detected during a physical exam
  • Determine the organ where the mass is located
  • Determine the extent of spread of disease
  • To perform a biopsy
  • Cancer staging
  • Determine the cause for abdominal pain
  • Examine blood vessels for abnormalities
  • Pregnancy confirmation
  • Pre-surgery procedure
  • Chronic infections
  • Loss of general condition
  • Recheck for a previously diagnosed problem
  • Elevated liver values

Palpation and/or x-ray results may show a possible mass in the abdomen. With the help of an ultrasound, the organ(s) where the mass is located can be identified and can help determine if surgery is a viable option. The results of a pre-surgical ultrasound can increase your pet’s chance of survival or prevent your pet from having to undergo surgery at all.

An ultrasound may also prove to be a valuable tool if your pet has problems urinating, suffering from recurrent infections, or has blood work that shows potential kidney problems.

What happens after the abdominal ultrasound?

The ultrasound can reveal abnormalities on the surface of the abdominal organs as well as internal changes that may have occurred within these organs. Although it is not 100% perfect, it’s an excellent and safe diagnostic tool. Based on the ultrasound results, your vet may recommend any of the following:

  • Perform more specific blood tests and/or urine tests
  • Taking of needle samples and do a biopsy
  • Determine if it’s necessary to perform surgery or not
  • Recommend an endoscopy

When will I know the results of my pet’s ultrasound exam?

Evaluating the results of an ultrasound is done in real-time, thus results are seen and known immediately. Sometimes, results need to be referred to a veterinary radiologist or another specialist. In this case, it may take a few days for the final report to be available.

Take-Home Message:

If your vet thinks that an abdominal ultrasound is necessary for your pet, here are important reasons why you should consider it:

  • An ultrasound can offer a quicker diagnosis of your pet’s problem.
  • The procedure can save you time and money in the long run.
  • It may save your pet from having to undergo surgery.
  • Ultrasound results may warrant the need for prompt lifesaving surgery.

Read more:

Why does my pet need an echocardiogram?

Chiropractic Care for Pets

Kidney Failure in Dogs

Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your pet’s abdominal ultrasound or another condition?

Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores.

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