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

You likely have many questions if your dog or cat needs an ultrasound. Our Santa Rosa vets are here to answer them and explain ultrasounds for pets.

What is ultrasound used for?

Pets can develop various illnesses and conditions similar to humans. These may include cysts, tumors, or ingesting foreign objects that can get stuck inside their bodies. In such cases, ultrasound imaging diagnoses and evaluates internal issues, pregnancy, and other conditions in pets. An ultrasound machine uses sound waves to produce real-time images of a pet's internal organs. This imaging technique is fast and non-invasive, with no radiation exposure associated with it.

Reasons Your Pet May Need An Ultrasound

An ultrasound helps our Santa Rosa vets examine your pet's organ structure to identify blockages, tumors, or other problems.

At Montecito Veterinary Center, we conduct ultrasounds in our in-house veterinary diagnostic laboratory. Our veterinarians use ultrasounds and other diagnostic tools to accurately diagnose your pet's medical issues and provide the most effective treatment possible.

Types of Ultrasounds

Your vet may perform these two types of ultrasounds:

Emergency Ultrasound

During an emergency, veterinarians typically focus the ultrasound on the chest and abdomen to promptly determine whether your dog or cat is suffering from severe internal bleeding or pneumothorax (a condition where gas or air accumulates in the area surrounding the lungs). This focused approach aids veterinarians in quickly diagnosing the problem and planning effective treatment.


Cardiac ultrasounds, or echocardiograms, are detailed tests used to assess the heart and surrounding structures, including the pericardial sac. They help us identify whether the heart is functioning properly and detect any malfunction. Although echocardiograms are usually painless, they require several measurements and calculations.

If your pet receives a heart murmur diagnosis or shows signs of heart disease, your veterinarian may refer them to a specialist for an echocardiogram. If the specialist identifies an abnormality, they can perform an ultrasound-guided biopsy to collect a sample of the affected tissue. This biopsy allows us to inspect the tissue sample under a microscope to obtain more information, which can lead to a diagnosis in many cases.

Medical Conditions & Diseases that May Require the Use of Ultrasound

Heart Problems

If your dog or cat has been diagnosed with a heart condition, your vet may refer you to a specialist for a heart ultrasound or echocardiogram to help evaluate the condition and function of your pet's heart and to search for any abnormalities.

Abnormal Blood or Urine Test Results

If your veterinarian discovers any anomalies in your pet's urine tests or blood samples, they may recommend that your companion undergo an ultrasound examination. This procedure can better picture your pet's internal organs, such as lymph nodes, kidneys, bladder, and more. The goal is to identify the underlying cause of the issue and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Diagnostic Imaging of Soft Tissue Injuries & Illness

Ultrasound imaging technology allows for detailed examination of almost all soft tissue. Some of the most common areas examined using ultrasound include:

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

If the vet spots abnormal tissue during an ultrasound, they may also use the ultrasound to help collect tissue samples from the affected area.

Ultrasound-Assisted Tissue Collection & Biopsies

Samples are typically collected using these methods:

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

If your vet performs an ultrasound-assisted tissue collection, they will likely sedate your pet. However, performing biopsies with ultrasounds allows us to conduct them in a less invasive manner than surgeries.

How To Prepare Your Dog or Cat for Their Ultrasound

Ultrasounds examine different areas of your pet's body, and each area requires specific preparation. Your vet can provide specific instructions to help you prepare your pet for the ultrasound.

For abdominal ultrasounds, you may need to stop your pet from eating and drinking for 8 to 12 hours before the procedure. For optimal ultrasound imaging of your pet's bladder, it's best to refrain from allowing your cat or dog to urinate for 3 to 6 hours before the procedure. This practice helps ensure the bladder is full, facilitating more apparent ultrasound results.

The area to be examined will likely be shaved to produce clear images. Most pets will remain still and cooperative during the ultrasound, but some may need to be sedated.

If biopsies are needed after the ultrasound, your pet will require heavy sedation or anesthesia to help them relax and prevent complications. Your vet will let you know if this is necessary.

Instant Ultrasound Results For a Fast Diagnosis

Your veterinarian can perform an ultrasound in real-time, meaning they will obtain the results immediately. However, in some cases, the images captured through ultrasound may need to be sent to a veterinary radiologist for a more detailed examination. If this happens, you may have to wait a few days before the final result is determined.

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.

Is your cat or dog scheduled for an ultrasound at Montecito Veterinary Center? If you have questions about your pet's procedure, contact our Santa Rosa vets today.

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