Ultrasound is an important diagnostic tool for veterinarians

When an animal is ill, veterinarians use physical exam results, blood tests, X-rays, and sometimes an ultrasound, writes veterinarian Lawrence Gerson. Ultrasounds are painless and noninvasive and only require the fur over the area of interest to be shaved. Dr. Gerson relates one case in which an ultrasound of a jaundiced cat revealed gallstones as the culprit, a condition that is uncommon in dogs and cats.

By Lawrence Gerson, V.M.D.

When presented with an ill animal, veterinarians will start with a history of  the problem and will perform a comprehensive physical exam. If the diagnosis is  not obvious, we usually rely on diagnostic testing that may include urinalysis,  a fecal exam, or blood tests for a complete blood count and a blood chemistry  and a thyroid test. X-rays may also be needed.

Occasionally, additional imaging such as an ultrasound is performed. An  ultrasound exam is a noninvasive test that can show the details of body systems  with great accuracy. Not only can we see the size and shape of the organs but  also the inner structure of most of the abdominal and cardiac structures

Amarillo, a 9-year old gray tabby cat had been losing her appetite over  several weeks. Her gastrointestinal tract was upset, and she had not eaten for  two days before seeing the veterinarian.

By that time, she had lost a significant 10 percent of her body weight. The  veterinarian noticed that her eyes were yellow-tinged, indicating jaundice.

“A yellow kitty is a very sick kitty,” the veterinarian said.

Getting an accurate diagnosis of liver malfunction can be a difficult and  expensive process. A blood test confirmed that the liver was not working well as  the bilirubin level was high. Because her thyroid level was normal, that  eliminated thyroid disease as the cause of jaundice.

She was not anemic, which is another cause of jaundice because of the  breakdown of red blood cells.

Palpation of the abdomen did not reveal any obvious tumors or other  abnormalities, but she was a bit tender about having her abdomen examined.

The veterinarian recommended an abdominal ultrasound. Commonly, humans have  diagnostic ultrasounds of their kidneys, liver, gallbladder or urinary bladder.  Ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves (higher than can be heard by human or  even dogs) to look at the organs and tissues of the abdomen and into the chest  of animals.

Ultrasound is painless and only requires a shaved stomach and some gel to get  a good image. Some veterinarians will ultrasound pets in their offices, while  others use the services of a specialist with many years of additional training  and experience to view the internal organs.

Amarillo had gallstones. Although not unusual in humans, gallstones are very  uncommon in cats and dogs. Additionally, she had stones in her bile duct,  causing a blockage of bile flow.

She eventually had surgery to flush out and re-route her gallbladder, and she  was back to her adventurous self in two weeks.

Pittsburgh is fortunate to have numerous specialists who can consult with  local veterinarians on difficult cases. Some of these specialists will visit  area veterinary hospitals to provide additional expertise.

Additional care is also provided at specialty hospitals, giving veterinarians  and pets many options and hope for those complicated cases.

Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and  founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. This column was co-written by  Nathaniel Myers of Pittsburgh Veterinary Internal Medicine. The biweekly column  is intended to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary  to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you’d like  addressed in Pet Points, email petpoints@post-gazette.com. Please  include your name and municipality or neighborhood. First Published  September 15, 2012 12:00 am

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