Ultrasonography, or ultrasound examination, is becoming more readily available for the evaluation of pets at a general practice level. This means that examination of the size, development & structure of organs can be done in a non invasive manner to the pet.
The way in which it works is very high frequency sound waves are emitted by a transducer placed on the body wall. These waves are reflected back (as echoes) from the structures in the body & are picked up by the same transducer. A computer converts the echoes to various visual patterns which are interpreted by the ultrasonographer. After processing, the echoes are usually displayed on a television type monitor during the examination and may be recorded electronically as instant pictures or recorded on video tape.
Despite the great advances made in computer science over the last few years, making ultrasound machines more compact & affordable, their cost is still up to $50,000 – specialist machines may cost in excess of $130,000 or more.
There is little discomfort for the animal during these examinations although areas of hair may have to be clipped and coupling jelly applied between the transducer and the body wall. Sedation or general anesthesia may be required in some cases to keep the patient still enough for detailed examination or to allow biopsy.
Many of the internal organs can be scanned including liver, kidneys, bowel, spleen, bladder, prostate, uterus and heart. Information can be obtained on the size and texture of organs, which can aid in the diagnosis of disease. The ultrasound may also be used to guide a minimally invasive biopsy probe that enables collection of tissue samples without the need for large abdominal incisions. Ultrasound provides the most reliable form of pregnancy diagnosis for dogs and cats.
Some organs require the expertise and technology of a Veterinary Specialist Ultrasonographer to image and assess. The adrenal glands and pancreas are two organs that may fall into this category. In addition, Colour Doppler Ultrasound is a technology that allows the measurement of directional blood flow through the heart, as well as blood flow velocity. This information is important in the assessment of some heart defects, especially heart disease of kittens and puppies. Added expertise is required to utilise this technology. There is also significant cost associated with this function, so most general practice ultrasound machines do not have Colour Doppler capacity.
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