Has your veterinarian ever recommended an abdominal ultrasound? Why does your pet need one? And why is it so expensive?
Abdominal ultrasounds are used to aid in the diagnoses of diseases located in the abdomen. The pets abdomen is shaved, gel is applied and a probe is used to obtain image; very similar to a pregnancy scan. The procedure is non-invasive and takes between 20-40 minutes. But why is it needed?
X-rays are great at showing the size, shape and location of organs whereas an ultrasound shows, more specifically, the architecture of the abdominal contents. This imaging modality lets you look within the kidneys, liver, small intestines and other organs to find very small nuances often missed with an x-ray.
When is ultrasound used? There are times when x-rays alone will not give your veterinarian enough information to make a medical decision. For cats with chronic vomiting or dogs who have severe abdominal pain it's best to re-evaluate with an ultrasound. It's also used to help determine the origin of abdominal masses and to continue looking for a cause of elevations in kidney and liver enzymes. There are many other uses, but in general, ultrasound is another instrument in your veterinarians tool belt that helps with obtaining a diagnosis.
Why is it so expensive? The price tag for an ultrasound ($400-600 per full scan) can make some owners shy away from this diagnostic, but the value is unmatched. Entry level units can cost 40-50 thousand dollars whereas high end units will cost more than 100 thousand dollars. On top of the cost of the machine there is the cost of the staff that is needed to help with the scan (doctor and technicians) and likely medications used for sedation.
But the ultrasound didn't find exactly what was wrong with my pet? This can happen! Remember, medicine is not always black and white. An ultrasound can be suggestive of certain diseases in the abdomen but additional diagnostics may be needed. A CT scan, a surgical exploratory, and an endoscopy (camera into the stomach) are commonly needed after an ultrasound to clarify it's findings.
Remeber to always ask questions and follow up with your veterinarians recommendations. Just as in human medicine, it's never wrong to seek a second opinion when you pets case becomes complicated!