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Ultrasounds for Dogs & Cats

You've just found out that your dog or cat needs an ultrasound. So, what exactly is an ultrasound and how can it help your pet? Our Thousand Oaks veterinarians explain how ultrasound scans are performed on pets.

Veterinary Ultrasounds for Pets

Our pets frequently get into things they shouldn't or develop health problems such as cysts or tumors that necessitate treatment. Ultrasounds are a type of imaging technology that uses sound waves to create a 'picture' of a specific part of your pet's body.

Veterinary ultrasounds are non-invasive and can be used to diagnose or evaluate problems with your pet's internal organs or check on your pet's pregnancy.

Reasons Your Pet May Need An Ultrasound

An ultrasound can help veterinarians examine the structure of your pet’s organs so they can discover and identify blockages, tumors, or other problems.

Veterinarians use ultrasounds and other diagnostic tools to provide an accurate diagnosis of your pet’s medical issues so they can provide your pet with the most effective treatment possible.

They can distinguish soft tissue masses from foreign bodies or fluid using ultrasound, which would be difficult or impossible with a digital x-ray. The ultrasound sound waves are not harmful or painful to your cat or dog.

Conditions That May Require An Ultrasound

Heart Conditions

If your cat or dog is diagnosed with a heart condition, your primary care veterinarian may refer you to a specialist for a heart ultrasound or echocardiogram to assess your pet's overall heart condition and look for abnormalities.

Abnormal Blood or Urine Test Results

If your pet's blood or urine tests reveal anomalies, your veterinarian might advise an abdominal ultrasound to get a clearer picture of the health of your pet's internal organs, including the lymph nodes, spleen, kidneys, liver, urinary bladder, or other areas, in order to figure out why the anomalies are occurring.

Examination of Soft Tissues

Almost all soft tissues can be examined thanks to ultrasound technology. A few of the most common areas that ultrasounds are used include:

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

If abnormal tissue is spotted during an ultrasound, the veterinarian may also use the ultrasound to help collect tissue samples from the affected area.

Ultrasound-Assisted Tissue Collection

Samples are typically collected using these methods:

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

Your pet will probably be sedated if your veterinarian needs to collect tissue with ultrasound assistance. In comparison to surgeries, ultrasounds allow for less invasive biopsies.

Types of Ultrasounds

Your veterinarian may perform these two types of ultrasounds:

Emergency Ultrasound

In an emergency, the ultrasound will typically concentrate on the abdomen and chest to quickly determine whether your dog or cat is suffering from a serious internal hemorrhage (bleeding) or pneumothorax (a condition where gas or air builds up in the space surrounding the lungs).

This can assist them in diagnosing the issue quickly. They can then plan effective treatment.


Also referred to as cardiac ultrasounds, these detailed ultrasounds can closely assess the heart and its surrounding structures, including the pericardial sac. This will tell your veterinarian whether the heart is functioning properly and whether there is a malfunction in the heart.

Echocardiograms, while usually painless, necessitate a number of measurements and calculations. If your pet has a heart murmur or is showing signs of heart disease, it may be referred to a specialist for an echocardiogram.

Once an abnormal part of an organ is identified, an ultrasound-guided biopsy can be performed to collect a sample of the affected tissue. This biopsy allows them to obtain a tissue sample, which can then be examined under a microscope to reveal additional information. This will almost always result in a diagnosis.

How To Prepare Your Pet for an Ultrasound

Ultrasounds in different areas require different preparations. Speak to your veterinarian to find out how to prepare your pet for its ultrasound.

For abdominal ultrasounds, you may be required to fast for 8 to 12 hours.When the urinary bladder is full of urine, veterinarians can better examine it. This is why, if possible, your cat or dog should not urinate for 3 to 6 hours prior to the ultrasound.

To produce clear images, the area to be examined will most likely be shaved. While most pets will remain still and cooperative during the ultrasound, some will need to be sedated.

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

Getting Your Pet's Ultrasound Results

Veterinarians can see results almost immediately because ultrasounds can be performed in real time. After being captured, ultrasound images may be sent to a veterinary radiologist for further consultation in some cases. You may need to wait a few days for the final result in these cases.

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.

If your dog or cat requires a veterinary ultrasound, contact your Thousand Oaks veterinarian today.

New Patients Welcome

VSEC Thousand Oaks is accepting new patients! Our board-certified specialists and experienced emergency veterinarians are passionate about restoring good health to animal companions.

Contact (805) 492-2436