Ultrasound is a non-invasive method which allows us to diagnose cardiac and abdominal problems. We are trained and equipped for ultrasound use and are happy to be able to offer this diagnostic modality to our patients.
Ultrasound is not a very new technology in the medical world, but only within the past 10 years has it become a routine and extremely useful diagnostic tool in small animal medicine. Ultrasound is probably most popularly known for its use in human medicine for producing awe-inspiring baby pictures. Similarly, early veterinary applications of ultrasound generally centered on producing simple images to determine whether or not an animal, usually a cow or horse, was pregnant. Improvements in the technology led to affordable ultrasound machines that produced increasingly clearer images, and now ultrasound is a powerful tool for diagnosing ailments in the abdomen and heart. Here at The Cat Doctor, we have had an ultrasound machine on site for two years, and we are pleased to be able to offer this diagnostic modality to our patients. Dr. Bob and Dr. Anne have both attended ultrasound training at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Ontario.
Ultrasound waves are sound waves that have a frequency too high for the human ear to hear. The ultrasound probe, which is placed on the skin, emits short bursts of ultrasound waves, then "listens" to hear how many and how quickly the sound waves bounce back to it. The sound waves change speed as they are transmitted through tissues of different density and water content, and are reflected by the boundaries between the different tissues. As the sound waves come back, the probe transmits the information to a computer, which uses the information to assemble an image on the screen. The image is continuously updated as the probe is moved over the skin surface, so ultrasound is seen in "real-time".
For some diseases, ultrasound has replaced x-ray pictures as the diagnostic tool of choice. For example, a cat may have elevated liver enzymes and the doctor may palpate an enlarged liver in the cat's abdomen. A radiograph (x-ray) might only confirm that the liver is enlarged without giving any indication of the composition of the enlarged tissue. The enlargement could be a fluid-filled cyst, a blocked gall bladder, a solid tumor protruding off a lobe of the liver, or the entire organ could be enlarged because of masses within the tissue or because of generalized inflammation. Using the ultrasound, we can differentiate between these conditions and use this information to help the owner decide what the next step should be. It is important to mention that the ultrasound usually cannot tell us whether a mass is benign or if it is a malignant tumor. Only a biopsy can do that. But the ultrasound is sometimes useful in helping us safely guide a small needle into the diseased tissue so that cells or fluid can be obtained by suction into a syringe. A pathologist can examine this material and report to us what it is. We use the ultrasound to examine most of the organs within the abdomen, ie, the bladder, kidneys, liver, gallbladder, stomach and intestines.
Ultrasound of the heart is also widely used in veterinary medicine, and is referred to as "echocardiography". Although our ultrasound machine is capable of producing images of the heart, we usually leave this advanced technique to a board-certified cardiologist. Ultrasound images of the heart show it beating, so that abnormalities of heart contraction or valve movement can be identified. The ultrasound machine can also "freeze" images, allowing the cardiologist to measure the dimensions of the chambers of the heart and the thickness of the walls. This technique is the only way to accurately identify the source of a heart murmur. "Echo" can help us tell whether a murmur originates from a harmless valve leakage or potentially fatal cardiac muscle disease. The cardiologist also uses an advanced ultrasound technique, called Doppler, to look for turbulence in the blood flow and to determine how fast blood is moving through the heart valves.
At The Cat Doctor, ultrasound of the abdomen can be scheduled Monday through Thursday. For the best images and to allow collection of ultrasound-guided needle aspirates of diseased tissue, cats are usually anesthetized for the ultrasound. Cardiac ultrasound is provided by Dr. Kaplan, a visiting cardiologist, who usually comes to our hospital every two weeks. These appointments are available on Thursdays.
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