Ultrasound scanners use high frequency sound waves to look at tissues within the body. A hand-held probe emits a burst of high frequency sound waves (inaudible to the human ear) which are echoed back to the probe. These echoes are then converted into a picture which represents a slice through the tissue being examined. This is displayed in a TV screen as a ‘real time’ moving image. More complex functions of the ultrasound machine include Doppler and colour flow mapping which are used to look at blood flow through the heart of other organs.
Most people are familiar with the use of ultrasound for monitoring human pregnancies, and we use it to check for pregnancies too. We also use ultrasound for examining other structures inside the abdomen such as the liver, spleen, kidneys, stomach, intestines, lymph nodes, bladder, prostate and blood vessels.
Ultrasound is very useful for examining the heart (echocardiography). Because ultrasound gives a real-time moving image it can show us the structure of a constantly moving organ such as the heart and tells us about its function.
If your pet needs an ultrasound scan some hair will be clipped and gel applied. Ultrasound is not painful and most animals tolerate it well. Sedation or anaesthesia will sometimes be recommended if your pet is very scared, wriggly or if we are taking biopsy samples.
Depending on the reason for an ultrasound scan, other procedures such as blood samples may be needed as well. Ultrasound is often used in conjunction with radiography (X-rays) as they are both good at showing different things, and together give us a more complete picture. Sometimes we will use ultrasound to help take biopsy samples from abdominal organs. In this case it is used to guide a needle to the area which we want to sample. This is a much less invasive and relatively painless way of taking biopsy samples than surgery.