An ultrasound machine uses sound waves above the limit of human hearing to visualize internal organs and structures within the animal’s body. A handheld transducer is used to direct the sound wave at a specific location and depth under the skin. The sound waves penetrate and reflect off of tissues. The reflected waves are measured by the transducer to create an image on a monitor. Most people are familiar with the black and white images of the human fetus on a sonogram. The ultrasound is a very useful diagnostic tool to assess disease processes involving the heart, liver, spleen, urinary bladder, kidneys, and other organs within the body. It can be used to guide surgical instruments into an organ to collect biopsy specimens. The ultrasound has been used for several decades and has an excellent safety record according to the FDA.
Ultrasound can be performed without administering an anesthetic. This is important in the case of pets that would be high risk candidates for anesthesia. The hair is shaved over the abdomen or thorax depending on the organ system to be assessed. The animal is usually restrained on its side, but ultrasound can be performed on a standing patient. The transducer is lubricated with a gel that enhances contact with the skin and allows the device to slide comfortably.
Situations where an ultrasound machine might be used are numerous. Imaging can be made of the entire urinary tract to diagnose bladder and kidney stones, defects in the bladder wall and ureters, and prostate disease. The machine may have Doppler capabilities that measure blood flow to the liver and kidneys. Ultrasound is used to diagnose tumors and abscesses of the liver, spleen, and pancreas. A procedure called an echocardiogram employs an ultrasound to measure the heart chambers and valves, assessing cardiomyopathy or heart disease. A specialist usually performs advanced ultrasound techniques.
Unlike an X-ray that takes a still image of the body, the ultrasound gives real-time visualization of the organs. Blood flow through arteries and urine production from the kidneys can be seen as it occurs. X-rays produce radiation that carries certain risks with long term exposure. Ultrasound is not associated with the ionizing effects of radiation.
An ultrasound is a powerful tool available to veterinarians that can assist in diagnosing diseases, abscesses, and cancers that would go undetected without exploratory surgery. It is a wonderful advancement in medical technology that allows non-invasive assessment of the internal workings of the body.