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

Our Columbia emergency vets share the benefits of ultrasounds for dogs and cats, when it is used, and how to prepare for your pet's ultrasound.

Our pets can get sick in different ways, like having tumors, cysts, or swallowing things they shouldn't. Ultrasounds are a special kind of medical test that uses sound waves to create live pictures of a specific part inside your dog or cat.

Veterinary ultrasounds are quick, painless, and can help diagnose problems with your pet's organs or check if they are pregnant.

Reasons Your Pet May Need An Ultrasound

An ultrasound can help our Columbia vets examine the structure of your pet’s organs so we can discover and identify blockages, tumors or other problems.

Types of Ultrasounds

Your vet may perform these two types of ultrasounds:

Emergency Ultrasound

If your pet is in an emergency situation, the ultrasound will mainly look at the belly and chest to determine if there is any severe internal bleeding or a condition called pneumothorax, where gas or air accumulates around the lungs. This helps us quickly identify the problem and create a suitable treatment plan.


Also referred to as cardiac ultrasounds, with these detailed ultrasounds we can closely assess the heart and its surrounding structures, including the pericardial sac. This will tell us whether the heart is functioning properly and whether there is a malfunction in the heart. Though they are usually painless, echocardiograms require several measurements and calculations.

If your pet has been diagnosed with a heart murmur or is showing signs of heart disease, they may be sent to our specialists for an echocardiogram. If we find any unusual areas in their organs, we can perform an ultrasound-guided biopsy to gather a sample of the affected tissue. This biopsy helps us examine the sample under a microscope for more information, which often leads to a diagnosis in many cases.

Conditions Which May Mean Your Pet Could Benefit From an 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 or abnormalities in your pet's urine tests or blood samples, they may recommend that your companion get an ultrasound in order to gain a better picture of their internal organs like their lymph nodes, kidneys, bladder and more to try and identify what is causing the issue.

Diagnostic Imaging of Soft Tissue Injuries & Illness

Almost all kinds fo soft tissue can be examined in detail thanks to ultrasound imaging technology. Some of the most common areas examined using ultrasound include:

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

If abnormal tissue is spotted during an ultrasound, the vet 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 will be performing an ultrasound-assisted tissue collection, your pet will likely be sedated. We can perform biopsies in a less invasive manner with ultrasounds than with surgeries.

How To Prepare Your Dog or Cat for Their Ultrasound

Different types of ultrasounds for your pet's various body parts may require specific preparations. It's best to consult your veterinarian for instructions on how to prepare your pet for their ultrasound.

For abdominal ultrasounds, your pet may need to fast (not eat or drink) for 8 to 12 hours before the procedure. It is particularly important to have a full bladder for ultrasounds of that organ, so you should ideally avoid letting your cat or dog urinate for 3 to 6 hours before the procedure.

The area being examined will likely be shaved to ensure clear images can be obtained. While most pets remain still and cooperative during ultrasounds, some may require sedation.

If biopsies are needed after the ultrasound, your pet will likely require a strong sedative or anesthesia to help them relax and prevent complications. Your veterinarian will inform you if this is necessary.

Instant Ultrasound Results For a Fast Diagnosis

Since your vets can perform an ultrasound in real-time, they will get the results immediately. In some instances, images taken through ultrasound will have to be sent to a veterinary radiologist after they have been taken for examination. In cases like that, you may need to wait a few days before the final result is decided upon.

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.

Does your pet need an ultrasound? Contact our Columbia vets at Maury County Veterinary Hospital to learn more about diagnostic imaging that our specialty vets offer for dog's and cat's.