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

If your dog or cat needs an ultrasound, you're likely going to have several questions. To put your mind at ease, our vets in Grants Pass explain the different types of ultrasounds for pets and why your veterinarian may recommend an ultrasound for your cat or dog.

Cats and dogs can develop various illnesses and conditions like cysts or tumors, or eat things they shouldn't that can then become lodged in their gastrointestinal system. Ultrasounds are a type of diagnostic imaging technology that transmits sound waves into your dog or cat's body so your veterinarian can view a specific area of the body in real-time. 

Veterinary ultrasounds are fast, non-invasive and can be used to evaluate or diagnose numerous issues with your pet's internal organs, or to check the status of your pet's pregnancy. 

Reasons Your Pet May Need an Ultrasound 

An ultrasound can help your veterinarian examine the structure of your pet's organs so blockages, tumors or other problems can be identified and diagnosed. This diagnostic test may be performed in-house or in another lab. 

Types of Ultrasounds

The two types of veterinary ultrasounds are an emergency ultrasound and an echocardiogram. 

Emergency Ultrasound 

If your pet is experiencing a medical emergency, the ultrasound will typically be focused on the chest and abdominal area so a vet can quickly determine whether your dog or cat has a serious internal hemorrhage (bleeding) or pneumothorax (a condition in which air or gas accumulates in the space surrounding the lungs). This can help us diagnose the issue quickly and then plan effective treatment.


Also known as cardiac ultrasounds, we can closely assess the heart and its surrounding structures, including the pericardial sac, with these detailed ultrasounds. This will reveal whether the heart is functioning properly or whether there is a malfunction. While these are usually painless, echocardiograms require several calculations and measurements. 

If your pet was recently diagnosed with a heart murmur or is displaying symptoms of heart disease, your pet may be referred to a specialist for an echocardiogram. Once an abnormal part of an organ is identified, 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, a veterinarian can use the results of these tests to make a diagnosis. 

Veterinary Health Conditions That Can Benefit From an Ultrasound 

Your veterinarian may recommend and perform an ultrasound to assess the status of your pet's health condition. Specifically, conditions that might benefit from an ultrasound include:

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

If your veterinarian discovers any anomalies or abnormalities in your pet's urine tests or blood samples, they may recommend that your companion get an ultrasound in order to gain a better picture of their internal organs like their lymph nodes, kidneys, bladder and more to try and identify what is causing 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 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 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.

How To Prepare Your Dog or Cat for Their Ultrasound

Ultrasounds performed on different areas of your pet's body require different kinds of preparation. Ask your vets for the specific things you need to do to help prepare your pet for their ultrasound.

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

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, after an ultrasound, biopsies need to be conducted, your pet will require a heavy sedative to anesthetic to help them relax and prevent complications. Your vet will be sure to let you know if this is necessary.

Instant Ultrasound Results For a Fast Diagnosis

Since your vets can perform an ultrasound in real-time, they will get the results immediately. In some instances, images taken through ultrasound will have to be sent to a veterinary radiologist for examination after they have been taken. In cases like that, 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. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you have more questions about ultrasounds for cats and dogs? Contact our Grants Pass veterinarians to schedule a consultation.

Specialty Vets at Lincoln Road Veterinary Clinic

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