Q: What is an ultrasound?
A: Ultrasound is a diagnostic test which utilizes equipment that sends sound waves into the body that are not audible to the human ear. The returning sound waves are then translated into images of the body region evaluated.
Q: How is the procedure performed?
A: First, the patient's fur has to be shaved in the area of the study. This allows good contact between the ultrasound equipment and the patient's skin. On some occasions, such as pregnancy evaluation, shaving may not be required.
For the abdominal studies, your pet will be placed on its back or on its side. We also have a soft bed in which the patient can lay that is comfortable. To the surprise of most owners, a majority of the patients will tolerate this position for the entire ultrasound study. On some occasions, pets will need to be sedated to perform an adequate and complete study. Some structures can be difficult to visualize without sedation if the patient is agitated or stressed. Your consent will be requested prior to utilizing sedatives.
In some instances, tissue samples may be obtained from abnormal organs. Prior to performing any of these procedures, you will be asked for permission and instructed on the risks and benefits of the procedure.
A gel is applied to the skin to eliminate air between the ultrasound probe and the patients skin which may interfere with the image. This gel is thick and may be difficult to completely remove without a bath. You should be aware that we will remove a large quantity of the gel utilized, but some may remain at the edges of the shaved hair. This gel is nontoxic and does not need to be definitively washed, unless you want a non-sticky appearance of hair. Pets that lick or clean themselves will not suffer from any secondary effects of the gel.
For thoracic evaluation, including heart ultrasounds, patients are sequentially positioned on their right and left sides. Patients are placed on a table that has padding for their comfort. Most pets will do well during this study.
Clients are not allowed in the room where the study is performed on their pets. There are no exceptions to this policy unless indicated by the radiologist. This is for the safety of the pets, our staff, and the owners. After the study is completed, the radiologist will contact your veterinarian within six hours with a verbal result. A written report will follow within 48-72 hours after the study was performed, depending on the time of the study and depending on if any additional testing or consultation is necessary. To discuss results of this study, you should contact your veterinarian. If a special procedure is needed, you may be asked to give permission and sign an additional sheet giving permission for that procedure.
Q: What are the benefits of ultrasound versus obtaining radiographs (x-rays)?
A: Ultrasound is a safe procedure that does not produce any radiation. Although radiographs (x-rays) can be of some help in multiple cases, radiographs only give information regarding the opacity, the size, and the shape of the organ of interest. Unfortunately, the internal contents of these organs are often not characterized by x-rays. In contrast, the ultrasound study will provide great detail in regard to the inside of these structures. A parallel would be to look at the shadow of an object in comparison to being able to look at the object itself and its insides.
Q: Who performs the ultrasound study?
A: Our board-certified radiologist is available in our office Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. A board-certified radiologist has been trained for an extended period of time (3 to 4 years) for the sole purpose of knowing all the details regarding ultrasound and radiology. The difference between a board-certified radiologist's evaluation of your patient and a study performed by a regular veterinarian is that the Board-certified radiologist has more training, education and experience. As a specialist, a radiologist performs and evaluates a large number of cases every day.
Q: What kind of problem or medical condition would indicate the need for ultrasound?
A: The most common problems that can be further evaluated with ultrasound are listed below:
- Vomiting and diarrhea.
- Abnormal urination and increased drinking.
- Non-specific weight loss.
- Poor appetite.
- Abnormal abdominal organ palpation, such as a mass felt by your veterinarian.
- Patient not feeling well and lethargic.
- Abnormal blood test.
- Heart murmur and collapse.
- Pregnancy screening
- A screening ultrasound may also be of some benefit in geriatric patients to evaluate for any early but critical disease processes that could then be addressed before the disease is severe and too advanced.
Q: Does ultrasound always find the abnormalities that are causing the disease process in my pet?
A: Although ultrasound is highly sensitive, and in some cases quite specific, it cannot identify every disease process. On some occasions, a disease process cannot be specifically defined, although an organ of involvement may be identified. In these cases, biopsies may be necessary.
Q: What organs will be evaluated?
A: During a routine abdominal ultrasound, the following organs will be evaluated: The liver and gall bladder, the pancreas, the intestines, the stomach, the kidneys, the urinary bladder, the adrenal glands, the spleen, the abdominal vessels, and the abdominal lymph nodes.
Q: Will my pet need anesthesia for ultrasound?
A: Most pets rest quietly in a padded cushion during the procedure with assistants comforting them and holding them gently in position. In some instances, pets are anxious, fearful, or painful and may require sedation to get a complete study. If your pet needs sedation, this will be discussed with you as well as any associated risks.
If ultrasound-guided sampling (FNA or biopsy) is indicated, your pet will most likely need sedation or general anesthesia. If this is the case, your doctor will discuss the possible risks and benefits with you prior to the procedure.
Q: How much fur will be shaved?
A: For an abdominal study, the entire belly will be shaved. For a cardiac study, an approximately 6-8" square on the right and left chest will be shaved.
Q: How long does the procedure take?
A: In most cases the study is complete within about 30 minutes. If sedation is necessary, additional time may be needed for the medication to take effect prior to the study.
Q: What is FNA?
A: FNA, which stands for fine needle aspirate, is a procedure where we introduce a very small needle into a structure to obtain cells for testing.
Q: What is the difference between FNA and ultrasound guided biopsy?
A: FNA obtains cells for analysis and a biopsy obtains an entire piece of tissue. FNA is easier and in some cases safer and results are obtained quickly but in some instances the sample obtained is not diagnostic because it does not contain enough information. Biopsy provides a larger, more reliable sample but is not safe to perform in some areas and results often take several days longer than FNA results.