Ultrasound Examinations and Scans in Dogs

ultrasound scans for dogs

Ultrasounds are used as a veterinary procedure for dogs. Ultrasound examinations for dogs are fairly common and can be performed for a number of different reasons.

As a dog owner, you’re probably curious about how this procedure works and what information you need if your dog has to have one. This guide is here to help.

We’ll break down ultrasound scans for dogs—what they are, how they work, what they’re used for, and answer some common dog owner questions about the procedure.

How Do Ultrasound Scans Work For Dogs?

An ultrasound examination in dogs is very similar to the procedure in humans. An ultrasound is a safe, painless, and non-intrusive diagnostic tool used by veterinarians. Ultrasounds, also known as ultrasonography, use high frequency sound waves to produce images of internal canine body structures.

In ultrasound examinations, a probe, or wand, is used with the assistance of an ultrasound gel. The gel is put on the skin of the dog and sound waves are transmitted from the probe through the gel into the body.

The probe collects the ultrasound waves that are reflected from the body and returns them as echos. These echos are transmitted to an image that is displayed on a screen. This image, therefore, shows the internal body structures that are under examination. Veterinarians use this image to diagnose different ailments in dogs, and to confirm pregnancies.

What Are Ultrasound Examinations Used For?

There are a number of different reasons why a trusted veterinarian might request to do an abdominal ultrasound scan on your dog. Don’t be afraid to talk to your veterinarian about the use cases of the procedure and specifically what he or she might be looking for.

Here are some typical use cases.

Pregnancy

Just as ultrasounds are used in humans, the procedure was first—and is still used—as a pregnancy monitoring tool. An ultrasound examination in dogs can tell the veterinarian if the dog is pregnant, as well as to determine the heartbeats of the puppies.

Ultrasound examination is not necessarily accurate, however, in determining the number of puppies and the size of the litter.

Organ-Specific Scans

In addition to detecting pregnancy, ultrasound scans for dogs can also show other organs to help veterinarians with a diagnosis. Ultrasounds can be used to look at a dog’s abdominal organs like the liver, kidney, bladder, gallbladder and lymph nodes.

The procedure can also show the thyroid and parathyroid. According to Banfield Pet Hospital, looking at these organs using ultrasound scanning can help a veterinarian diagnose tumors and cysts, bladder or kidney stones, organ abnormalities, fluid issues, and more.

Echocardiography

It’s also very common for veterinarians to use an ultrasound to examine the heart, which is called echocardiography.

This ultrasound can help measure the thickness of the heart walls, the size of the chambers, and the motion of the other heart structures. Echocardiography can help a veterinarian diagnose a heart condition and determine how the heart is functioning.

Ultrasound Procedure in Dogs

An ultrasound examination in dogs is safe, quick, and simple. Once your veterinarian has made the appointment for your dog, they will give you specific instructions to follow. If you have any questions about the procedure, feel free to ask them for a leaflet or print out containing all the information you need to know.

Before an Ultrasound Scan

Before the procedure, you’ll want to avoid letting your dog eat or drink anything—an empty stomach will allow your veterinarian to get the best image.

Once you get to the appointment, the staff will take your dog into the procedure room. They will shave the area where the veterinarian will be putting the ultrasound probe. This is done to allow the probe to be placed directly on the skin. This will give your veterinarian the clearest and most accurate image.

After shaving the area, the veterinary staff will use the gel and the probe to scan your dog’s internal organs. Your veterinarian will use the image on the screen to diagnose any issue. In some cases, the results may need to be sent to a specialist, like a veterinary radiologist, for review. If this occurs, it may take some time for the specialist’s review to come back.

From beginning to end, an ultrasound scan procedure should only take about 30-60 minutes. Your veterinarian will be able to discuss results, possible further tests, and what to expect afterward with you when the procedure is complete.

canine ultrasound radiography
Only a veterinary radiologist will be able to accurately analyze a canine echocardiography image. (credits: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, Focused Ultrasound Techniques for the Small Animal Practitioner, Wiley ©2014)

Follow Up After an Ultrasound Scan for Dogs

As mentioned above, once the procedure is complete, your veterinarian will evaluate the results and check for any issues. They will discuss the results with you, as well as any relevant diagnosis and possible treatment options.

The veterinarian will consult a specialist if they feel it is necessary. If your veterinarian feels that any follow-up test is needed, they will discuss that with you, as well as the next steps for those procedures. Generally, your dog should be all set to return home with you.

Once you bring him home, there are generally no restrictions in terms of food, drink, or activity. Depending on the personality and seniority of your dog, he may be tired or worn after the anxiety of a different experience.

Common Questions about Ultrasound Examinations for Dogs

As a dog owner, it’s only natural to have questions about a medical procedure that your dog will be going through. These are some of the most common questions owners have about ultrasound scans for dogs.

Don’t hesitate, however, to ask your veterinarian any questions you may have that are specific to your dog and discuss what to expect before, during, and after, with them.

How do you prepare a dog for an ultrasound examination?

Firstly, you want to prevent your dog from eating or drinking before the exam, so that the veterinarian can better see your dog’s internal organs, unobstructed.

Secondly, if your dog takes medication, ask your veterinarian if you need to change or adjust the schedule based on the procedure.

Finally, the best way to prepare your dog for an ultrasound exam is to talk to your veterinarian about what to expect, especially as it pertains to your specific dog.

Although you may be feeling nervous about the procedure, try your best to remain calm, as your dog may pick up on your emotions. If you’re calm, your dog will be less anxious as well.

Do Ultrasound Scans For Dogs Require Anesthesia?

Abdominal ultrasound scans do not require anesthesia. One of the benefits of ultrasounds, in fact, is that they’re simple and noninvasive.

In very rare cases, anesthesia or sedation may be required for frighteneddogs, in order to get a sufficient picture from the procedure. Your veterinarian will discuss this with you if it becomes necessary.

The only other instance where anesthesia is necessary is if your veterinarian wishes to take a biopsy. A tissue biopsy is taken by inserting a small needle or instrument into the area and withdrawing the tissue. To ensure this process goes smoothly and your dog remains still, your veterinarian may want to use anesthesia. In this case, your veterinarian will discuss what you need to do and will break down the full process concerning anesthesia with you ahead of time, including extra costs.

What are the different types of ultrasounds?

Generally, types of ultrasound can vary based on the image produced.

The most common type of ultrasound in veterinary medicine is the B-mode ultrasound, also called the 2-dimensional imaging ultrasound. This ultrasound gives a two-dimensional picture of the organ and is used to detect pregnancy and examine the various structures as discussed above.

The other type of ultrasound is called an M-mode ultrasound. This, actually is a type of B-mode, in which a tracing of the motion of the organ is being displayed on the screen. In echocardiography, M-mode ultrasounds and B-modes are used together to examine the heart.

Additionally, a specialized type of ultrasound called Doppler ultrasound is also used when looking at the heart. This ultrasound measures the directions and speed of blood flow and blood vessels.

How Long Do Dog Ultrasound Scan Results Take?

Since ultrasound exams create an image while the procedure is happening, the results are instantaneous. As your veterinarian observes the image, it may take them a few minutes to reflect on the results. They will offer insight or a diagnosis based on the observations right away.

At times, they may prefer to consult with another veterinarian and in some cases, ultrasound results are sent to a specialist for review. In this case, it may take some time for the specialist to review and offer thoughts.

How Much Do Ultrasound Examinations in Dogs Cost?

Ultrasound examination costs for dogs range from $300 to $500. Prices can be affected by where you live, what kind of facility you bring your dog to, and your specific veterinarian.

The cost, although seemingly high, actually falls in the midrange for diagnostic image testing prices. To compare, canine x-rays usually falls in a range in the lower hundreds of dollars, while an MRI can cost up to a few thousand dollars.

What Are the Dangers of Ultrasound Scans in Dogs?

Since ultrasound scans do not use radiation and operate using sound waves, there is no risk associated with the procedure. One of the benefits of ultrasound examinations in dogs is there are no dangers.

Although your dog may be nervous, there is nothing involved in the actual procedure that can harm him. Ultrasounds are safe, relatively easy, non-intrusive, and because of their capabilities, ultimately make excellent diagnostic tools.

What Are the Differences Between X-Rays and Ultrasound Scans?

Whereas an ultrasound examination uses sound waves to produce an image of internal body structures, an X-Ray uses low levels of radiation to capture an image on film.

An X-Ray shows the size and shape of organs, and is often used to look for breaks and fractures in bone. Ultrasounds, as Banfield Pet Hospital writes, “provides a complete internal view of the architecture of the organs.”

As mentioned above, ultrasounds generally run at a higher cost than X-Rays, although both are valid and useful diagnostic tools.

At the end of the day, an ultrasound scan for dogs is a non-invasive, simple procedure used by veterinarians as a diagnostic tool. The ultrasound uses sound waves to produce an image of your dog’s internal body structures. Your veterinarian can analyze this image to determine if there are any issues. The procedure itself is relatively simple and your dog should have no problem sitting through an ultrasound.

If your dog needs to have an ultrasound examination, worry not, your veterinarian is there to answer all your questions and help you through the process.

About The Author – James Woller is a long-time dog enthusiast, and owner of Release the Hounds and Jet Pet Resort, professional dog walking and boarding companies in Vancouver, Canada. On his days off from running his companies, he enjoys learning and writing about topics that are of interest to caring pet owners.

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