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

Your veterinarian may recommend an ultrasound to help diagnose a variety of conditions and illnesses for cats and dogs, but what does this entail? In this post, our Benton vets share what pet owners should know when it comes to ultrasounds for cats and dogs.

Illnesses in Cats & Dogs

Cats and dogs can develop all sorts of illnesses and conditions like tumors or cysts, and sometimes eat things they shouldn't that get lodged inside of them. In some instances, a veterinary ultrasound may be necessary to give your vet a better idea of what they're dealing with.

Pet ultrasounds are a diagnostic imaging tool that transmits sound waves into your dog or cat's body to produce a picture of the inside of their body. Veterinary ultrasounds are fast, non-invasive, and can be used to diagnose or evaluate several issues and problems with your pet's internal organs. Just like how an ultrasound is used for humans, it can also be used to check on your pet's pregnancy.

Why Your Pet May Need an Ultrasound

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

An ultrasound for dogs and cats is often done in an in-house veterinary diagnostic laboratory. Veterinary professionals use ultrasounds and other diagnostic tools to provide an accurate diagnosis of your pet’s medical issues, so they can provide your pet with appropriate treatment as quickly as possible.

Types of Ultrasounds

Below are the two types of ultrasounds your vet may use on your pet:

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 in diagnosing the issue quickly so an effective treatment plan can be developed.


Also referred to as cardiac ultrasounds, these detailed ultrasounds allow veterinarians to closely assess the heart and its surrounding structures, including the pericardial sac. This will show whether the heart is functioning properly or if there is a malfunction.

If your pet was recently diagnosed with a heart murmur or is displaying signs of heart disease, they may be referred to a specialist for an echocardiogram. Once they identify an abnormal part of an organ, they will collect a sample of the affected tissue by performing an ultrasound-guided biopsy. This biopsy allows the vet to take a tissue sample, which can be inspected with a microscope, to reveal more information about the condition.

Conditions Detected By an Ultrasound

Heart Problems

If your dog or cat has been diagnosed with a heart condition after an ultrasound, your vet may refer you to a specialist for further evaluation of the heart. There are a variety of heart conditions that an ultrasound for cats and dogs can detect, most of which need to be treated immediately.

Abnormal Blood or Urine Test Results

If your veterinarian discovers any anomalies or abnormalities in your pet's urine tests or blood samples, an ultrasound may be necessary to gain a better picture of their internal organs. An ultrasound can help your vet analyze their lymph nodes, kidneys, bladder, and more to try and identify the underlying cause of the issue.

Diagnostic Imaging of Soft Tissue Injuries & Illness

Almost all kinds of soft tissue can be examined in detail thanks to ultrasound imaging technology. Some of the most common areas examined using an ultrasound for pets 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 will be performing an ultrasound-assisted tissue collection, your pet will likely be sedated to prevent any pain or discomfort. Sedating your pet will also allow the vet to properly perform the procedure, as the cat or dog won't be squirming. Biopsies can be performed in a less invasive manner with ultrasounds than with surgery.

Preparing for Your Cat or Dog's Ultrasound

Ultrasounds performed on different areas of your pet's body require different kinds of preparation. Your vet will inform you of any steps you need to take before bringing your pet in for their ultrasound appointment.

Steps may include preventing your cat or dog from eating and drinking for 8 to 12 hours before the procedure, particularly before an abdominal ultrasound. Your vet will be able to best examine your pet's bladder when it is full so for ultrasounds of that organ, you ideally should not have your cat or dog urinate 3 to 6 hours before the procedure.

After an ultrasound, if biopsies need to be conducted, your pet will require a heavy sedative or anesthetic to keep them calm and prevent complications. You will be informed in advance if this is necessary.

Instant Ultrasounds for a Fast Diagnosis

Since your vets can perform an ultrasound in real-time, they will get the results and share them with you immediately. However, in some instances, images taken through ultrasound will have to be sent to a veterinary radiologist for a more thorough examination of the results. In this case, you may need to wait a few days before the final result is decided.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. Please make an appointment with your vet for an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition.

Has your vet suggested an ultrasound for your cat or dog? Contact our Benton vets to learn more about what you can expect from the procedure, and how you can prepare.

Welcoming Cats & Dogs to Our Animal Hospital

Saline County Animal Clinic welcomes cats, dogs, and their people to our clinic! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Benton dogs and cats. Get in touch to book your pet's appointment.

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