Basics of Abdominal Veterinary Ultrasounds

Close up puppy having ultrasound scan in vet office

An ultrasound may be required to determine the cause of a pet’s health issue. This procedure is non-invasive and typically does not require sedation. Before you perform an ultrasound, you may want to know the basic steps of the procedure and what equipment you’ll need.

Abdominal ultrasound is a relatively quick procedure. Note that ultrasound is most effective on smaller pets, as a higher amount of body fat reduces the quality of the image.

Reasons to Perform an Ultrasound

The procedure allows you to see what is happening inside the animal’s body.

Ultrasound is a helpful tool to diagnose pets when they show signs of pain in the lower or upper abdomen. An abdominal ultrasound may be used to detect any abnormalities in the area (including the lymph nodes and peritoneal cavity) such as inflammatory or infectious disease, pregnancy, or foreign objects.


Ultrasound for small animals often requires a machine with a curvilinear variable frequency of 6.0-8.0 MHz. This machine is ideal for observing smaller organs such as the thyroid or testes.

How To Perform an Abdominal Ultrasound 

Before performing this procedure, the patient must undergo specific preparations. Be sure to review all of the previous medical records and paperwork and check with the owner for any additional information that may be helpful. The pet’s owner should have avoided feeding their pet before the procedure, so nothing obstructs the image.

What To Examine

You should examine the entire abdomen. Inspect the liver, kidneys, stomach, and all other organs, as there could be problems in an unsuspected area.

Prepping for the Procedure 

Have the animal placed in dorsal recumbency in a padded V-trough. The animal’s forelimbs and hindlimbs should be gently restrained. If the animal is experiencing extreme pain or anxiety, sedation may be the best option. 

Otherwise, give the animal time to get comfortable in its restraints before starting the procedure to avoid injury.

Use a No. 40 blade to remove abdominal hair as necessary and wet the skin. You can dampen the skin with 70% alcohol or water. Next, apply a generous amount of ultrasound gel to amplify the sound waves and produce a sharper image.

Take extra care to keep the animal comfortable during the procedure. If the patient is cold, warm them with a warm water bottle or compress. Avoid heating pads or other electric devices that will interfere with the equipment.

Performing the Procedure

Begin by placing the scan head under the xiphoid and setting the beam in the sagittal plane. Always maintain firm hand pressure during your scanning. Examine the liver by moving the beam from side to side.

Next, move on to the right kidney. Use the sagittal plane to observe the renal border and pelvic architecture. Use the transverse plane to examine any dilation in the renal pelvis.

After the kidneys, move on to the pancreas, followed by the stomach, then over to the left kidney.

Return to the transverse plane in the mid-abdomen and scan the lymph nodes and small intestine. After 2-3 passes with your scanner, you should have examined the entire abdomen.

Learn More About Veterinary Ultrasounds with Choice Medical

If you’re looking for more information about small animal ultrasonography, explore our website or call us today at (727) 592-5668 to learn about our ultrasound equipment and education and trainings.