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Ultrasound for Dogs and Cats: What Pet Owners Want to Know

Has your vet recommended diagnostic imaging to gain a better view of how your pet's internal functions are working? Our Westminster vets discuss the purpose of cat and dog abdominal ultrasounds and how veterinary diagnostics can help your pet feel their best.

What are veterinary ultrasounds used for?

Even with constant care and attention, your dog or cat may end up sick or injured. If this happens, your vet may recommend diagnostic imaging like abdominal ultrasounds.

Ultrasounds transmit sound waves into an animal's body, producing an image of specific internal structures.

The technology used in ultrasounds is safe and non-invasive. Your veterinarian can also leverage it to diagnose pericardial effusion and hemoabdomen (blood surrounding the heart and in the abdomen). 

Why would my cat or dog need an ultrasound in Westminster?

An ultrasound can be used to identify the structure of your pet's internal systems and illuminate any objects that may be present. With ultrasounds and other diagnostic tools, our veterinarians at Choice Veterinary Specialists can accurately diagnose your pet's medical issues so effective treatment can be administered. 

This tool gives us the ability to differentiate soft tissue masses, foreign bodies and fluid from one another — a task that may be difficult to achieve with a digital X-ray. The ultrasound generates sound waves that will not be painful or harmful to your dog or cat. 

Here are some examples of conditions that may need an ultrasound to detect. 

Heart Conditions

If your dog or cat has a heart condition, your vet may recommend an echocardiogram to help find out whether your pet will require heart medication.

Soft Tissue Examination

An ultrasound can be used to examine almost all of the body’s soft tissues to evaluate:

  • Fetal viability and development
  • Thyroid glands
  • Tendons
  • Ligaments
  • Eyes

If abnormal tissue is discovered during the ultrasound, a vet may be able to collect tissue samples.

How does a vet collect tissue samples?

There are two common methods of collecting tissue samples. They are:

  • Tri-Cut biopsies
  • Ultrasound-guided fine needle aspiration

Your dog may need to be sedated with these methods. Biopsies can be performed with ultrasound imaging, in a less invasive manner than surgery would entail.

Abnormal Blood or Urine Test Results

If abnormalities are discovered in your dog’s blood or urine tests, an abdominal ultrasound may be recommended.

This can help our veterinary team see internal organs such as lymph nodes, spleen, kidneys, urinary bladder, liver or other areas to find out what’s causing the specific abnormalities.

What are the different types of ultrasounds for pets?

Your vet may perform one of these two types of ultrasounds:


With, echocardiograms we can closely examine the heart and the structures surrounding it, including the pericardial sac, to find out whether the heart is functioning properly. If your pet's heart is not working correctly, this can also help reveal the issue.

Usually painless, these detailed ultrasounds require numerous calculations and measurements. Your vet may recommend one if your pet is exhibiting symptoms of heart disease or was diagnosed with a heart murmur recently.

Emergency Ultrasounds

By nature, emergencies occur suddenly and ultrasounds are usually focused on the abdomen and chest to quickly check for pneumothorax (a condition in which air or gas collects in the area around the lungs) or serious internal hemorrhaging (bleeding).

We can use emergency ultrasounds to help quickly identify and diagnose the issue, and then develop an effective treatment plan.

Do I need to prepare my dog or cat for an ultrasound?

Ask your vet how you should prepare for the ultrasound. Leading up to your pet’s ultrasound appointment, you may need to withhold water and food for 8 to 12 hours, specifically for abdominal ultrasounds.

The area to be examined by your vet will be shaved, so clear images can be captured. While most pets won’t have trouble holding still during the ultrasound, some will need to be sedated.

If biopsies need to be done, your cat or dog will need a heavy sedative or short-acting anesthetic to help him or her relax during the procedure, and prevent potential complications that could impede success. Your veterinarian will let you know if this is necessary.

When do I get the results of my pet's ultrasound in Westminster?

Because our vets can perform an ultrasound in real-time, we can see results almost immediately. In some cases, ultrasound images will be sent to a veterinary radiologist after they’re captured for more consultation. In these cases, you may need to wait a few days for the final result.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog or cat expected to have a veterinary abdominal ultrasound? Contact our Westminster veterinary team to schedule a consultation for your dog or cat.

New Patients Welcome

Choice Veterinary Specialists is accepting new patients. Our experienced veterinary specialists are passionate about improving the health of Westminster animals with complex healthcare needs. Contact us today.

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