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

Being told that your pet needs an ultrasound can lead to a number of questions. In this post, our Springfield vets discuss the purpose of veterinary ultrasounds, the different types and how they can benefit cats and dogs.

Diagnostic Imaging to Monitor Your Pet's Health

Our furry companions are susceptible to various illnesses and conditions, such as tumors, cysts, or ingesting foreign objects that may cause internal blockages.

Ultrasounds are a diagnostic imaging technique that uses sound waves to create real-time images of your dog or cat's body.

Veterinary ultrasounds are quick, non-invasive, and can be used to diagnose and assess a range of internal organ issues in your pet. Additionally, ultrasounds help monitor your pet's pregnancy.

Why are ultrasounds needed for dogs and cats?

Our veterinary diagnostic laboratory at The Regional Veterinary Referral Center provides state-of-the-art ultrasound services to help our vets examine the structure of your pet's organs.

This lets us detect any blockages, tumors, or other medical problems your pet may have. Our experienced veterinarians use ultrasounds and other diagnostic tools to diagnose your pet's issues accurately.

Types of Ultrasounds for Pets

Your vet may perform these two types of ultrasounds:

Emergency Ultrasound

If your pet undergoes an emergency, an ultrasound will concentrate on the abdomen and chest areas to promptly identify whether your cat or dog is suffering from severe internal bleeding or pneumothorax, a condition where gas or air gathers in the space surrounding the lungs. This quick diagnosis helps us to determine the problem quickly and plan an effective treatment for your pet.


Cardiac ultrasounds, or echocardiograms, are detailed scans that enable close examination of the heart and its surrounding structures, including the pericardial sac.

They are used to determine whether the heart is functioning properly or if there are any abnormalities. While echocardiograms are typically painless, they involve various measurements and calculations. 

If your pet has recently been diagnosed with a heart murmur or is showing signs of heart disease, they may be referred to a specialist for an echocardiogram.

In cases where an organ shows abnormalities, an ultrasound-guided biopsy can be performed to obtain a tissue sample for further examination under a microscope. This biopsy aids in making a diagnosis in many instances.

When are ultrasounds used?

Heart Problems

If your dog or cat has been diagnosed with a heart condition, your vet may refer you to a specialist for a heart ultrasound or echocardiogram to help evaluate the condition and function of your pet's heart and to search for any abnormalities.

Abnormal Blood or Urine Test Results

Suppose your veterinarian finds any irregularities or abnormalities in your pet's urine or blood tests. In that case, they may suggest an ultrasound to better understand their internal organs, such as lymph nodes, kidneys, bladder, and more. This can help identify the cause of the issue.

Diagnostic Imaging of Soft Tissue Injuries & Illness

Using ultrasound imaging technology, almost all soft tissue can be examined in detail. Some of the most common areas examined using ultrasound include:

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

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

Ultrasound-Assisted Tissue Collection & Biopsies

Samples are typically collected using these methods:

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

If your vet performs 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.

Preparing Your Pet For an Ultrasound

Ultrasounds may be performed on various parts of your pet's body, and each may require specific preparations. It is essential to consult with your veterinarian for specific guidelines to help prepare your pet for the ultrasound.

For certain ultrasounds, such as abdominal ultrasounds, your pet may need to fast for 8 to 12 hours before the procedure to ensure the best possible images of the abdominal area. In the case of bladder ultrasounds, your cat or dog shouldn't urinate for 3 to 6 hours before the procedure so that the bladder can be adequately assessed.

The area being examined will typically be shaved to ensure clear images can be obtained. Although most pets remain calm and cooperative during the ultrasound, some may need sedation to help them relax.

If biopsies are needed after the ultrasound, your pet might require a stronger sedative or anesthesia to help it relax and prevent complications. Your veterinarian will inform you if this is necessary.

Ultrasounds For Efficient Diagnosis

Your veterinarian can perform an ultrasound procedure in real-time. This means that the results can be obtained immediately. However, in some cases, the images taken through the ultrasound will need to be sent to a veterinary radiologist for further evaluation. In such instances, you may need to wait a few days before the final result is concluded.

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 pet experiencing symptoms that point to a potential medical condition? Contact our Springfield vets today to schedule an examination.

New Patients & Referrals Welcome

The Regional Veterinary Referral Center is accepting new patients in emergency situations or by referral! Our experienced specialists are passionate about the health of Springfield pets. Contact us today to learn more.

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Contact (703) 451-8900