A: X-rays and ultrasounds are complimentary imaging technologies.  Each has different strengths and weaknesses.  X-rays are useful for solid objects, like bones, or air-filled spaces, like lungs.  Ultrasound examinations are particularly helpful when a doctor wants to look inside an organ, like when searching for an abscess or tumor in the abdomen.  It is also helpful when measuring movement, like with heart or blood vessel problems.

Ultrasound examinations take a great deal of expertise.  Some general practices have ultrasound machines to help them with simple imaging, but few are skilled enough to perform thorough full-abdomen examinations.  Heart ultrasounds, called echocardiograms, are even more difficult.  They also require a special ultrasound machine feature that allows for color mapping of blood flow.  As a result, most general practice veterinarians refer to specialists for these technically complicated scans.

In the Culpeper area an ultrasound referral used to mean a long drive to a referral center.  However, modern telemedicine and Internet technology now allows specialist-interpreted imaging closer to home.  Any local veterinary office can refer a pet to Clevengers Corner Veterinary Care for a thorough abdominal ultrasound or an echocardiogram. The referring veterinarian will get a complete report the next day, including diagnosis, prognosis, treatment and/or follow-up recommendations.

These scans are performed in our office using a modern “human-quality” ultrasound machine. A specially trained Licensed Veterinary Technician works with one of our experienced veterinarians and an off-site professional sonographer to obtain diagnostic images and videos of your pet’s insides.  The study is then reviewed by a board-certified specialist, complete with follow-up recommendations.  A full report is sent to your pet’s veterinarian who will discuss the findings with you.

This service has been very popular.  It saves pet owners a long drive to a specialty center and some of the costs involved at those facilities.  The service also allows local veterinarians to continue to treat more pets in their own practices, where owners already know and trust the doctors.

For heart patients, it is now possible to electronically send an ultrasound study, EKG electrical evaluation, blood pressure measurment, and chest x-rays to a single cardiologist for a complete evaluation.  These reports come back with diagnosis, treatment recommendations, and follow-up schedules just like a more traditional trip to a referral cardiologist.  This service is best for clinically stable pets and veterinarians who are already comfortable listening to heart murmurs and following up with medication management.

In the case of critically sick pets or crisis situations, treatment at a specialty practice is often indicated.  In those cases, it is probably best to have the imaging done at the referral center where the care will be provided.  In less critical cases, you may be able to have the scan performed at Clevengers Corner Veterinary Care and continue to have your pet treated in your local veterinary practice that you already know and love.  If your veterinarian is recommending an ultrasound, be sure to ask about all your options.