Veterinary Ultrasound: How does it work, what does it do.
by Dr. Chris Schwarz
Veterinary ultrasound is one of many wonderful diagnostic tools we have as veterinarians. It is a very safe, non-invasive way to diagnose and rule-out many disorders. We use it to examine and evaluate many different parts of an animal.
Ultrasonography utilizes sound energy to visualize around and into organs. This sound energy is at a much higher frequency than what we, or even out pets, can hear. This energy is produced by tiny crystals in the probe, or transducer, that we place against the pet. The soundwaves then travel through the pet and are either absorbed by tissues, reflected back to the probe, or refracted (scattered). The probe measures the strength of the reflected energy and the time it takes to return back to the probe, and using this information digitally creates a picture of the tissues we are looking at.
This is a tool that, like x-rays, allows us to evaluate different densities in the body. Different from x-rays, we cannot evaluate very high-dense objects, such as bones, or very low-dense objects, such as air-filled lungs or air-filled intestines. However we can evaluate different densities in a single organ, allowing us to look for masses, cysts, or other lesions, and by knowing what the normal density of an organ is we can also evaluate if there are generalized changes to it.
Over the years this tool has evolved even further. We can reliably measure objects as thin as the wall of the small intestine, and utilizing the same doppler technology meteorologists use to track tornadoes, we can monitor blood and other fluid flow.
Typically we utilize this machine for abdominal studies, looking for soft-tissue changes in the liver, kidneys, spleen, and other organs within the belly. It is often times utilized as a method of evaluating the heart as well. Using ultrasound technology, we can accurately biopsy organs with minimal to no sedation that otherwise would be biopsied surgically.
What does this mean for your pet if we recommend an ultrasound be performed? This means that we will have a non-invasive method to examine portions of your pet that we could not view otherwise, and that this method is safe, painless, and usually requires no sedation. While this wonderful tool is not perfect in every situation, it is one of many we have in our arsenal that allow us to continue giving your pets the highest quality of care possible.