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

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

You've just been told that your dog needs an ultrasound. So, what exactly is this procedure and how can it help your pet? Our Tracy vets explain how ultrasound scans for dogs and cats are performed in our in-house veterinary diagnostic lab. 

Veterinary Ultrasounds

It's fairly common for pets to develop health issues such has cysts or tumors that need treatment, or to get into things they shouldn't. In these circumstances and others, your pet may need an ultrasound so your veterinarian can assess the problem before providing a diagnosis and treatment recommendations. 

Ultrasounds are a type of imaging technology that transmits sound waves into your pet's body to capture a 'picture' of a specific body part. 

Veterinary ultrasounds are non-invasive and may be used to diagnose or evaluate problems in an animal's internal organs or check on a pregnancy. 

Reasons Your Pet May Need an Ultrasound 

An ultrasound can help our vets in Tracy examine the structure of your pet's internal organs. During this assessment, we may discover and identify obstructions, tumors or other issues. 

At Paws and Claws Veterinary Hospital, ultrasounds for cats and dogs are completed in our in-house veterinary diagnostic laboratory. Our team of veterinarians use ultrasounds and other diagnostic tools to accurately diagnose your pet's medical issues, so your pet will receive the most effective treatment possible. 

By using ultrasound, we can distinguish foreign bodies or fluid from soft tissue masses - a job that may be challenging or impossible to accomplish with a digital X-ray. The ultrasound will generate sound waves, but these are not harmful or painful to your cat or dog. 

Conditions That May Require an Ultrasound 

Here are some conditions that commonly require veterinary ultrasounds. 

Abnormal Blood or Urine Test Results 

Has your vet discovered abnormalities in your pet's blood or urine tests? An abdominal ultrasound may be recommended so your vet can get a clear picture of the health of your pet's internal organs such as the kidneys, lymph nodes, spleen, liver, urinary bladder or other areas and to learn why the abnormalities are occurring. 

Heart Conditions 

If your cat or dog has been diagnosed with a heart condition, a heart ultrasound or echocardiogram may be needed so we can evaluate the general condition of your pet's heart and check for abnormalities. 

Examination of Soft Tissues 

Almost all soft tissues can be examined using ultrasound technology. Some of the most common areas that ultrasounds are used to check include:

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

If abnormal tissue is detected during an ultrasound, your veterinarian may also use this imaging technology to help collect tissue samples from the area that's been affected. 

Ultrasound-Assisted Tissue Collection

Samples are typically collected using these methods:

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

If your vet will be performing an ultrasound-assisted tissue collection, your pet will likely be sedated. We can perform biopsies in a less invasive manner with ultrasounds than with surgeries.

Types of Ultrasounds

Your vet may perform these two types of ultrasounds or refer you to a veterinary specialist to have them completed:

Emergency Ultrasound

If your pet is experiencing an emergency, the ultrasound will usually focus on the abdomen and chest to quickly learn whether your dog or cat has a serious internal hemorrhage (bleeding) or pneumothorax (a condition in which gas or air collects in the space surrounding the lungs).

This can assist us in diagnosing the issue quickly. We can then plan effective treatment.


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

Though they are usually painless, echocardiograms require several measurements and calculations. If your pet was recently diagnosed with a heart murmur or is displaying signs of heart disease, they may be referred to our specialists for an echocardiogram.

Once we identify an abnormal part of an organ, an ultrasound-guided biopsy can be performed to collect a sample of the affected tissue. This biopsy allows us to take a tissue sample, which can be inspected with a microscope to reveal more information. In many cases, this will result in a diagnosis.

How To Prepare Your Pet for an Ultrasound

Ultrasounds on different areas of the body require different preparations. Speak to your vet to find out how to prepare your pet for their ultrasound.

You may be required to withhold food and water for between 8 and 12 hours, particularly for abdominal ultrasounds. We can best examine the urinary bladder when it is full of urine. This is why your cat or dog should not urinate for about 3 to 6 hours before the ultrasound, if possible.

The area to be examined will likely be shaved so clear images can be produced. 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

Because our veterinarians can perform ultrasounds for pets 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 further 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.

Your veterinarian at Paws and Claws Veterinary Hospital can tell you whether your pet will need an ultrasound. Please contact our Tracy veterinarians to book an appointment for an exam.

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