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

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

You've just been told that your dog or cat needs an ultrasound. So, what exactly is an ultrasound, and how can it help your pet? Our Gaithersburg vets describe how veterinary ultrasound scans are done.

Veterinary Ultrasounds 

Sometimes, our pets get into things they shouldn't or develop health issues such as tumors or cysts that require treatment.

Ultrasounds are a type of imaging technology that can be used to diagnose or evaluate health problems within your pet's internal organs, or to check on an animal's pregnancy. They can transmit sound waves into your pet's body to produce an image of a specific part of the body in real-time. 

Veterinary ultrasounds are a non-invasive technology that can be used to show the structure and movement of the body's internal organs, in addition to blood flowing through blood vessels. 

Reasons Your Pet May Need an Ultrasound

An ultrasound can help us examine your pet's internal organs so blockages, tumors and other problems can be identified. 

Veterinary Referral Associates partners with Synergy Veterinary Imaging Partners, who provide our ultrasound services. 

By leveraging ultrasounds and other diagnostic tools for cats and dogs, we can provide an accurate diagnosis of your pet's medical issues, so we can plan and implement effective treatment. 

Ultrasounds can help us distinguish soft tissue masses from fluid or foreign bodies - a task that may be challenging or impossible to complete with a digital X-ray. While ultrasound generates sound waves, they are not harmful or painful to your dog or cat. 

Conditions That May Require an Ultrasound 

Abnormal Blood or Urine Test Results 

If your vet finds abnormalities in your pet's blood or urine tests, they may recommend an abdominal ultrasound so they can assess the health of your pet's internal organs such as the liver, urinary bladder, kidneys, lymph nodes, or other areas to learn why the abnormalities are happening. 

Examination of Soft Tissues 

Ultrasound technology gives us the ability to examine almost all soft tissues. A few of the most common areas on the body that ultrasounds are used to assess include: 

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

If abnormal tissue is detected during an ultrasound, your veterinarian may also suggest using the ultrasound to help collect tissue samples from the affected area. 

Ultrasound-Assisted Tissue Collection 

These methods are typically used to collect tissue samples: 

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

Your pet will likely be sedated if your veterinarian will be recommending an ultrasound-assisted tissue collection. Biopsies can be performed in a less invasive manner with ultrasounds than with surgeries. 

Types of Ultrasounds 

These are the two types of ultrasounds that are typically recommended for pets, depending on their needs and circumstances: 

Emergency Ultrasound 

If your pet is experiencing an emergency, the ultrasound will usually focus on the chest and abdomen, so the veterinarian may be able to quickly identify whether your dog or cat has serious internal hemorrhage (bleeding) or pneumothorax (a condition in which gas or air collects in the space surrounding the lungs). 

This can help us diagnose the issue quickly, so effective treatment can be planned. 


Also referred to as cardiac ultrasounds, with these detailed ultrasounds we can closely assess the heart and its surrounding structures, including the pericardial sac. This will tell us whether the heart is functioning properly and whether there is a malfunction in the heart.

Though they are usually painless, echocardiograms require several measurements and calculations. If your pet was recently diagnosed with a heart murmur or is displaying signs of heart disease, they may be referred to our specialists for an echocardiogram.

Once we identify an abnormal part of an organ, 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, this will result in a diagnosis.

How To Prepare Your Pet for an Ultrasound

Ultrasounds require different preparations depending on the area of the body to be examined. Speak to your vet to find out how to prepare your pet for its ultrasound.

You may be required to withhold food and water for between 8 and 12 hours, particularly for abdominal ultrasounds. We can best examine the urinary bladder when it is full of urine. This is why your cat or dog should not urinate for about 3 to 6 hours before the ultrasound, if possible.

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 biopsies need to be done, your pet will need a heavy sedative or short-acting anesthetic to help them relax during the procedure and prevent potential complications that could impede success. Your veterinarian will let you know if this is necessary.

Getting Your Pet's Ultrasound Results

Because an ultrasound can be performed in real-time, we can see results almost immediately. In some cases, ultrasound images will be sent to a veterinary radiologist after they’re captured for further consultation. In these cases, you may need to wait a few days for the final result.

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 questions about ultrasounds or other diagnostic imaging technologies? Contact our Gaithersburg vets today.  

New Patients Welcome

Veterinary Referral Associates is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Gaithersburg companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

Contact (301) 926-3300