Ultrasound is a procedure commonly performed on the heart (echo) or the abdomen. We use ultrasound as an imaging modality to assess structural changes in organs. Ultrasound is essentially a series of black and white pictures that allow us to look at tissue density, structure, position, size and movement. It allows us to accurately take fine needle samples of structures within the abdomen (ie: liver tissue/cell samples). Ultrasound is a non-invasive procedure.
Heart ultrasound (Echocardiography)
We routinely ultrasound the heart if we hear a heart murmur to assess if there are structural changes. This is especially important if your pet is having a general anaesthetic, as heart disease may increase the anaesthetic risk.
A heart murmur is a sound heard due to blood turbulence within the heart. Blood turbulence may be caused by fever, anaemia, high blood pressure, non-pathologic haemodynamic change, hyperthyroid disease via direct effects on the heart and blood volume or structural heart disease. The only way to identify if there is structural heart disease is via an ultrasound.
Pet’s having a heart ultrasound are fasted overnight (nothing to eat after 10pm and no breakfast). Water is allowed. We shave under both of their armpits to allow us a window to visualise the heart. Occasionally, sedation is needed.
Abdominal ultrasound is used to gather more information about organs within the abdomen. Ultrasound is also used for pregnancy scans from 28 – 38 days.
Abdominal ultrasound is used to investigate a wide range of concerns and abnormalities. We cannot use ultrasound to assess if an organ is functioning 100%. Below are several examples of when ultrasound is used:
- investigate abnormal masses or lumps in the abdomen
- investigate liver structure when liver blood test results are abnormal
- investigate presence of gall stones, kidney stones or bladder stones.
- used to take ultrasound guided tissue / cellular samples of abnormal organs
For abdominal ultrasounds we shave their entire abdomen from the end of their rib cage to their pelvis on both sides. We must shave this much to ensure that we can see all of the abdominal organs. They either lie on their side or back from an abdominal ultrasound. Occasionally, sedation is required.
If we see an abnormality within the abdomen it is preferable to obtain cellular samples from the abnormal tissue to send to the laboratory for analysis. We use a very thin needle to take a sample. This procedure is called an FNA (fine needle aspiration). The small needle reduces the discomfort and risk for your pet. However, because the needle is so small, only approximately 50 – 75% of samples are diagnostic. It is still the best first line investigation because it is less invasive compared to full surgical exploration and biopsies. Diagnostic options can be discussed during your veterinary consult or you can request to speak to a vet during admission on the day of the procedure.