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When is a Veterinary Ultrasound Used?

Ultrasound can be used to confirm a vet's diagnosis.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 21 April 2014
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Veterinary ultrasound in used in many of the same circumstances that call for the use of ultrasound on humans. It can be a useful diagnostic tool, and it can also be used to monitor ongoing conditions. In some circumstances, it may be necessary to use veterinary ultrasound because animals cannot communicate with humans about their symptoms, and as a result, an ultrasound may be used in lieu of an extensive patient interview.

One of the most common reasons for a veterinarian to use ultrasound is as an aid to diagnosis. For example, if a male cat is brought in by an owner who claims that the cat is having difficulty urinating, the veterinarian might use ultrasound to check for an obstruction in the bladder or urethra. Ultrasound can also be used to examine suspicious masses and other findings which occur during a manual exam. It can also be used in emergency settings to look for serious medical problems such as internal organs damaged in a collision.

A clinic may also use veterinary ultrasound to monitor an ongoing condition. A pregnant dog, for example, may be given several ultrasound examinations to confirm the pregnancy and assess the health of the developing puppies. Ultrasound can also be used to monitor the progress of liver and kidney disease, along with any treatment approaches, just as it is in humans.

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Large animal veterinary ultrasound can be utilized for things like checking on the heart health of a race horse, determining that a cow is ready for breeding, or checking for the source of an intestinal obstruction in a goat. Veterinary ultrasound can also be used to guide procedures such as biopsies, with the veterinarian ultrasounding the area of interest to confirm that the sample is taken from the correct location.

In the case of large animals, the veterinarian may bring the ultrasound machine to the animal, to reduce stress for the animal prior to the examination. Small animals must generally be brought into a veterinary clinic for an ultrasound examination. In both cases, the procedure is painless, and the animal generally does not need to be sedated, although a veterinary technician or assistant is usually present to hold and calm the animal so that the vet can get a good image. Veterinary ultrasound can take between 30 minutes and an hour and a half, depending on the reason for the examination and the type of animal.

Not all veterinarians offer ultrasound. Some vets may need to refer clients to another veterinarian or to a veterinary ultrasound specialist. Owners may opt to be present during the exam in some cases, and the veterinarian can provide information about the anatomical structures seen during the ultrasound examination. Depending on the findings of the imaging study, a veterinarian can recommend the best course of action, which can vary from requesting additional testing to recommending a change of medication to continuing the animal's care as before.

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