Pet Tips

Dogs – Cats and Ultrasound- Pet tip 216

When most people hear the word ultrasound they normally think of the device that gynecologists use to check the health of growing fetuses in pregnant women. In fact, ultrasound can be used to check the health and proper functioning of many organs and systems in the human body. It can also be used in the exact same way as a diagnostic tool for cats, dogs and other animals. But how exactly does an ultrasound work and how does it differ from the more traditional X-ray?

Ultrasound works by placing a transducer (a probe-type device) on an external part of the body. The device emits sound waves that are too high for the human ear to detect. These sound waves travel through the body and reflect off the organ or structure it is aimed at. Since every structure is different in shape and mass, particular and specific ‘echoes’ can be recorded by the ultrasound machine. These reflected sounds or echoes can then be converted to moving images that can be viewed and recorded. Two of the most common uses of this device produce sonograms (fetal images) and echocardiograms (images of the heart).

Ultrasound is different from traditional X-rays in several ways. First and foremost, an X-ray is only capable of producing a two dimensional image while ultrasound can produce real-time three dimensional images. This gives us information about the internal structure of an organ as opposed to just the surface area image that an X-ray gives us. Another big difference is the speed of the result. X-rays are film based which means that the X-ray film needs to be developed in order to be seen. Ultrasound provides live instant feedback on a monitor. Ultrasounds can also be recorded and studied in depth using different software. Another difference is that ultrasounds are easier to administer as all the patient has to do is stay relatively still. In order to get a good X-ray the patient needs to be practically motionless. This is almost impossible for most cats and dogs that normally need to be given an anesthetic before an X-ray can be done. Unfortunately, on the downside is the extra expense; ultrasounds are more costly than X-rays. Another downside is the experience needed to interpret the result. It takes considerably more training to properly interpret an ultrasound result.

In terms of ultrasounds on pets, they are being performed regularly and many veterinary practices have these machines in their offices. Common reasons to use them on pets include; checking for fetal problems in pregnant females, checking for heart problems, vascular problems and checking for abdominal abnormalities. If you have a pet that needs the use of an ultrasound machine regularly, consider getting references from people you trust and make sure the veterinarian or technician using the machine has a lot of experience.

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