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Ultrasounds for Cats and Dogs

Sometimes your pet may experience conditions that require diagnostic tools such as an ultrasound. Our vets at Montecito Pet Hospital in Montecito talk about what ultrasounds are and how our veterinary diagnostic lab and pharmacy can help diagnose your pet.

What are ultrasounds?

When it comes to our pets there are many moments in their lives when they get into adventures that result in possible injury or just like humans, they can be genetically predisposed to a variety of health conditions. 

Therefore, they can easily get into things they shouldn’t, or end up with cysts or tumors that require treatment. Ultrasounds transmit sound waves into your pet’s body to produce an image of a specific part of the body.

This technology is non-invasive and can be used to diagnose various conditions such as pericardial effusion and hemoabdomen (blood around the heart and in the abdomen).

Why are ultrasounds needed? 

An ultrasound can help us examine the structure of your pet’s organs so we can discover and identify blockages or objects.

At Montecito Pet Hospital in Montecito, all ultrasounds and other diagnostic imaging are done in our in-house veterinary diagnostic laboratory. Our vets use ultrasounds and other diagnostic tools to provide an accurate diagnosis of your pet’s medical issues, so we can give effective treatment.

Using ultrasound, we can distinguish soft tissue masses from foreign bodies or fluid - a task we might find challenging or impossible to accomplish with a digital x-ray. The sound waves the ultrasound generates are not harmful or painful to your cat or dog.

Following are specific examples of conditions that might require an ultrasound:

When might ultrasounds be required?

Your vet may request that an ultrasound be done on your pet using our veterinary diagnostics lab in Montecito if they are concerned that your pet may be experiencing certain conditions, have concerning results from other tests, or need a more in-depth look at your pet for diagnostic purposes. 

Heart Conditions

Some pets experience various conditions of the heart. If your vet is concerned about possible heart issues or If your pet is newly diagnosed with a heart condition, your pet may be required to visit the vet lab and have an echocardiogram performed to find out whether your pet will require heart medication or further treatment.

Abnormal Blood or Urine Test Results

Occasionally your vet may receive concerning results or abnormalities in the results of your pet’s blood or urine tests, this may prompt them to recommend ultrasounds of your pet's internal organs such as the lymph nodes, spleen, kidneys, liver, urinary bladder or other areas to learn why the abnormalities are occurring.

Soft Tissue Examination

Almost all soft tissues can be examined with an ultrasound to assess:

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

If your vet identifies abnormal tissue during an ultrasound, they may use the ultrasound to collect tissue samples.

Types of Ultrasounds

Your vet may perform these two types of ultrasounds:

Emergency Ultrasound

During an emergency situation, your vet may immediately decide to perform ultrasound imaging in order to rule out serious internal hemorrhaging (bleeding) or pneumothorax (a condition in which gas or air collects in the space surrounding the lungs).

Completing this imaging immediately gives our vets a quick overview of the entire situation and which areas of the situation need to be addressed first. 


Echocardiograms or cardiac ultrasounds as they are otherwise known are diagnostic imaging tools that are used to closely examine the heart and its surrounding structures, including the pericardial sac. This provides a clear insight into whether or not there are any concerns with the heart and to monitor for any abnormalities.

While echocardiograms are non-invasive and virtually painless your vet will require several measurements and calculations over the duration of the test. You may need to bring your pet in for a diagnostic appointment at our veterinary diagnostic laboratory if your pet has been diagnosed with a heart murmur or is displaying signs of heart disease.

How can I prepare my pet for their ultrasound?

Your vet will take the time to discuss what you should expect from the ultrasound and how to prepare your pet for the process. In the case of echocardiograms, you will not need to do anything special to prepare your pet.

For abdominal and other types of ultrasound, your pet will not be able to eat or drink for 8 to 12 hours prior in order to ensure the imaging can be performed accurately. The bladder is best viewed while it is full so your vet will recommend that your pet not urinate for at least 3 to 6 hours before the imaging is completed.

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

How long does it take for the results?

Luckily, our veterinarians are able to view your pet's ultrasound as they are performing it. This provides our vet with immediate information regarding your pet's condition. Occasionally your vet may require a consultation with a veterinary radiologist in order to confirm the diagnosis and in these rare cases, the results may not be available in our vet lab immediately. 

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 pet scheduled for an ultrasound or other diagnostic imaging at our veterinary pharmacy and diagnostics lab in Montecito? Contact our vets at Montecito Pet Hospital if you have any questions or concerns about what to expect.

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