If you are reading this blog, your pet has likely been advised to have an abdominal ultrasound for some type of health issue they are having.   So, what exactly is an abdominal ultrasound? What are we looking for? What will happen to your pet during this test? This blog will cover the basic questions and concerns you may have regarding this common diagnostic procedure.

The Abdominal Ultrasound

What exactly is an abdominal ultrasound?

In a nutshell, ultrasonography uses high frequency sound waves to create a “picture” of an internal structure. The waves are emitted by a probe that the doctor holds in their hand and scans over the area of interest. These waves can be reflected back, pass through, or absorbed by tissues all of which help to create a picture. Ultrasound is considered a noninvasive test and can be done on any number of body areas. For the purpose of this discussion, we will focus on the basics of abdominal ultrasound.

What is the doctor looking for?

At Sunstone Vets, an exam and consultation is always done alongside an abdominal ultrasound. The doctor will review all of your pets medical records and answer your questions prior to performing the ultrasound.

 When one of our Internists performs an abdominal ultrasound, they will be looking not only at the specific area of interest, but all of the abdominal organs. This includes stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, kidneys, adrenal glands, and urinary bladder, and potentially other structures. This thorough exam helps to ensure that we don’t miss something by focusing on just one area. Making sure your pet is fasted (has an empty stomach) also helps us to get the best picture possible.

An abdominal ultrasound can be recommended in a wide variety of circumstances. Perhaps your pet has elevated liver values and your doctor wants to get a closer look at their liver to check for visual abnormalities. Maybe your dog or cat has chronic gastrointestinal symptoms. An abdominal ultrasound will allow your doctor to get a detailed look at their stomach and intestines, as well other associated structures. Maybe your pet has diabetes mellitus and they want to check for other health problems that may be impacting this disease.

Regardless of the reason your doctor advises it, abdominal ultrasound can provide them with invaluable information that is different from what x-rays or bloodwork can tell us.

What is it like for my pet?

Abdominal ultrasound is not entirely unlike the belly ultrasound that a pregnant woman may receive. Your dog or cat will be lying on their back in a soft padded trough. They will be gently restrained by our caring staff while the doctor scans their belly with the probe. They will likely need to have their fur clipped. This is an important step because by clipping the fur and using warm ultrasound gel, we can help ensure good contact between the probe and the belly to get the best picture possible.

 Most of the time animals will allow us to complete their ultrasound without any sedation which is great! If your pet is a bit more anxious (like mine are), we may recommend using a dose of sedation to ensure everyone’s comfort and safety. The ultrasound itself is a relatively painless procedure but some pets may be painful in their belly or other areas from their illness. In these cases, we may recommend giving a dose of pain medication and/or sedation to make sure they are comfortable during their scan.

We typically don’t allow clients to be with their pets during the ultrasound. This allows the doctors and staff to focus all of their attention on your pet and getting you the answers you need. But don’t worry, your pet will be taken care of as if they were one of our own and you will get to enjoy the joyous reunion when it is over!

Small black dog getting an abdominal ultrasound

After the Ultrasound

Sometimes the abdominal ultrasound will lead your doctor to recommend further testing. This may include labwork (ie: blood or urine tests), taking needle samples of something they saw, recommending endoscopy or surgery, etc. You and your pets doctor will have an in-depth discussion of their findings and recommendations for moving forward after the ultrasound.

If you are wanting further information regarding small animal ultrasound, check out this article from Texas A&M University or this one from the University of Illinois.

We hope that this blog helped shed some light on how and why abdominal ultrasound can be a valuable tool for your pet. Feel free to give us a call to schedule a time to discuss your pets case and how we can help!

Until next time,

Katie BS, AAS, CVT, VTS (SAIM) and all of the staff here at Sunstone Veterinary Specialists