An abdominal ultrasound is a diagnostic study of the interior of the abdominal cavity performed by using an ultrasound machine. An ultrasound machine produces sound waves that are used to scan the body and produce an image (sonogram) of internal organs and structures. The technology is identical to that used in pregnant women to monitor developing babies.
An ultrasound study of the abdomen allows your veterinarian to “look inside” your pet, observing tinier organs like the adrenal glands and larger structures like the liver and spleen. Such a detailed view allows abnormalities to be found easily. Unfortunately, many cancers are prevalent in pets and present as large growths or masses. These can usually be seen clearly, and their specific location noted in the event that surgical removal is an option. Diagnosing other diseases is also a very common use of the ultrasound. For example, Irritable Bowel Disease typically causes enlarged lymph nodes along the digestive tract and a thickening of the intestinal wall- all parameters that can be measured with an ultrasound. An ultrasound of the abdomen includes a scan of all major organs, not just ones we might be worried have a problem. Many ultrasound exams have caught incidental findings, like excessive sludge-like material in the gall bladder and even urinary bladder stones!
Ultrasound is a wonderful alternative to standard X-Ray Radiography. In some cases objects which do not show up on an x-ray, like certain types of bladder stones, can be observed on an ultrasound. Other times, fluid in the abdomen may completely block the view of the x-ray. Luckily, fluid actually helps sound waves travel and makes ultrasound an excellent alternative. Ultrasounds allow you to view in “real time”, so that the doctor can monitor blood flow to certain areas or watch the flow of debris or growths within the urinary bladder!
Completely noninvasive, pets who are having an ultrasound do not need anesthesia, though sedation will sometimes be used in pets who are anxious or will not lay calmly on the ultrasound cushion. In case your pet must be sedated, we recommend withholding breakfast on the day of their appointment but allowing as much water as they would like to drink.
Pets who are being ultrasounded will be shaved over the target area- in the case of an abdominal ultrasound, this is the entire abdomen, from the bottom of the sternum to the groin and from one side of the rib cage to the other.
After obtaining an incredibly detailed view of your pet’s abdomen, your veterinarian will be able to prescribe the best treatment plan for any abnormal findings.