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Ultrasound Examinations for Dogs

If you've learned that your furry friend needs an ultrasound you may have many questions about why, and what the process is. Here, our Oceanside vets share some important information about canine ultrasounds and what to expect if your puppy or adult dog is in need of one.

Veterinary Ultrasounds for Dogs & Puppies

Sometimes, our pets get into things they shouldn't or develop health issues such as tumors or cysts that require treatment.

Ultrasounds are a type of imaging technology that can be used to diagnose or evaluate health problems within your dog's internal organs, or to check on an animal's pregnancy. They can transmit sound waves into their body to produce an image of a specific part of the body in real-time. 

Veterinary ultrasounds are a non-invasive technology that can be used to show the structure and movement of the body's internal organs, in addition to blood flowing through blood vessels. 

Reasons Your Puppy or Adult Dog May Need an Ultrasound

An ultrasound can help us examine your dog's internal organs to identify blockages, tumors and other problems. 

By leveraging ultrasounds and other diagnostic tools for cats and dogs, we can provide an accurate diagnosis of your dog's medical issues so that we can plan and implement effective treatment. 

Ultrasounds can help us distinguish soft tissue masses from fluid or foreign bodies - a task that may be challenging or impossible to complete with a digital X-ray. While ultrasound generates sound waves, they are not harmful or painful to your dog or cat. 

Situations That May Require an Ultrasound

There are several different situations where an ultrasound may be requested by your veterinarian. These include:

Abnormal Blood or Urine Test Results 

If your vet finds abnormalities in your dog's blood or urine tests, they may recommend an abdominal ultrasound so they can assess the health of their internal organs such as the liver, urinary bladder, kidneys, lymph nodes, or other areas to learn why the abnormalities are happening. 

Examination of Soft Tissues 

Ultrasound technology gives us the ability to examine almost all soft tissues. A few of the most common areas on the body that ultrasounds are used to assess include: 

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

If abnormal tissue is detected during an ultrasound, your veterinarian may also suggest using the ultrasound to help collect tissue samples from the affected area. 

Ultrasound-Assisted Tissue Collection 

These methods are typically used to collect tissue samples: 

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

Your dog will likely be sedated if your veterinarian recommends an ultrasound-assisted tissue collection. Biopsies can be performed in a less invasive manner with ultrasounds than with surgeries. 

The Different Types of Ultrasounds Used on Dogs

If your canine companion needs an ultrasound, it will be one of two types - an emergency ultrasound or an echocardiogram.

Emergency Ultrasound 

If your dog is experiencing an emergency, the ultrasound will usually focus on the chest and abdomen, so the veterinarian may be able to quickly identify whether your dog or cat has serious internal hemorrhage (bleeding) or pneumothorax (a condition in which gas or air collects in the space surrounding the lungs). 

This can help us diagnose the issue quickly, so effective treatment can be planned. 


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 adult dog or puppy was recently diagnosed with a heart murmur or is displaying signs of heart disease, they may need to be referred to a specialist for an echocardiogram.

Once we identify an abnormal part of an organ, we will perform an ultrasound-guided biopsy to collect a sample of the affected tissue. This biopsy allows us to take a tissue sample, which can be inspected with a microscope to reveal more information. In many cases, this will result in a diagnosis.

Preparing Your Dog for an Ultrasound

The preparations for an ultrasound vary depending on the type of ultrasound being performed and the area of the body to be examined. Your vet will be able to provide you with specific instructions.

You may be required to withhold food and water for between 8 and 12 hours, particularly for abdominal ultrasounds. We can best examine the urinary bladder when it is full of urine. This is why your cat or dog should not urinate for about 3 to 6 hours before the ultrasound, if possible.

The area to be examined will likely be shaved so clear images can be produced. While most dogs will remain still and cooperative during the ultrasound, some must be sedated.

If biopsies need to be done, your dog will need a heavy sedative or short-acting anesthetic to help them relax during the procedure and prevent potential complications that could impede success. Your veterinarian will let you know if this is necessary.

What to Expect From Your Dog's Results

Because ultrasounds can be performed in real time, we can see results almost immediately. In some cases, ultrasound images will be sent to a veterinary radiologist after they’re captured for further consultation. In these cases, you may need to wait a few days for the final result.

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.

Do you have questions about this or other veterinary technologies available at our clinic? Contact our Oceanside vets today.  

Specialty Vets at Surfside Animal Hospital

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