If you have ever had an ultrasound scan, you know how useful they can be when it comes to getting a diagnosis or guiding treatment decisions. Ultrasound is a low-stress and pain-free way of seeing inside the body using sound waves. Early ultrasound machines were big and bulky and had to stay in the clinic but recent advances in technology have allowed the creation of smaller and more portable machines. As a result, we are now pleased to be able to offer this service to your cats in the comfort of their own home!
What is ultrasonography used for?
Ultrasonography is a brilliant tool for looking at internal soft tissue organs such as the liver, heart and intestines. Some of the situations/conditions where ultrasound enables our diagnosis and treatment include:
1. Chest – In emergencies where a cat is having difficulty breathing, a scan may allow us to see whether there is fluid building up around the lungs (‘pleural effusion’) and if so, the ultrasound can guide our needle to drain off this fluid enabling a life saving procedure to help the cat to breathe.
2. Kidneys – In cats with kidney disease, the ultrasound allows us to assess the architecture of the kidneys to rule out any structural abnormalities such as cancer.
3. Heart – If a cat has a heart murmur or arrhythmia, we can assess both the structure and function of the heart (a special type of ultrasound scan called an ‘echocardiogram’). This can tell us whether the abnormality we can hear with our stethoscope is a result of heart disease or more benign changes. Knowing the severity of a cat’s heart disease allows us to more accurately prescribe medications if/when required.
4. Organ Assessment – Where a blood test has shown a specific organ may be diseased, or if there has been an abnormal size or shape of an organ (such as the liver or spleen) found whilst examining a cat, the ultrasound enables us to literally see that organ on our computer screen. Once this is done we can decide whether surgery is warranted or whether we can do a less invasive biopsy using the ultrasound to guide us with a needle (like a blood sample but taking the sample from an organ rather than a vessel).
5. Weight Loss – Ultrasound could be very beneficial in cases of unexplained weight loss that has not shown anything on blood tests, to make sure internal organs are looking normal in a non-invasive manner.
6. Pregnancy – Whilst pregnancy is one of the most popular reasons to use ultrasound in the human and veterinary world, at The Cat Doctor we thankfully don’t have many cases that require this, although of course it is available should such use be needed.
7. Intestines – For cats with chronic diarrhoea, we can examine each individual layer that makes up the bowel to look for thickenings that might indicate inflammation or cancer.
8. Bladder – Where cats are showing cystitis signs, the ultrasound can help us assess the lining of the bladder and check for the presence of stones along the urinary tract.
What is an ultrasound scan like for my cat?
Ultrasound scans don’t cause pain or discomfort and, as a non-traumatic procedure, there are minimal risks involved for the patient. This makes it ideal for sick or elderly patients that may not be suitable for more invasive diagnostic tests like surgical biopsies as in some cases, an ultrasound-guided needle biopsy gives us enough information to make a diagnosis. Not all cats like to sit still for the length of time required to complete the scan however, so we do sometimes use sedation (either in the form of a tablet given at home a few hours before we visit or by injection once we arrive) to make this a bit easier on them, especially if biopsies may be required. Food in the stomach can affect results so we would ask you not to feed your cat the morning of their scan.
We are very excited to be able to offer ultrasound scans to our patients at home as a low-stress, non-invasive and highly effective means of ‘seeing’ inside your cat’s body. We of course hope that your cat never needs our ultrasound machine, but it’s nice to know that it’s there if they do!