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Every Geriatric Pet Should Have an Abdominal Ultrasound!

Veterinary medicine has come a long way over the last few decades. We used to spend our days (and still do) putting out fires all day and practicing reactive medicine. But what if you could prevent the fires before they every started? Or, at least, catch it early enough to do something? As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Over the years, preventative or, wellness medicine, has become more talked about and has evolved in many practices. The most common form of preventative screening includes blood testing. Generally, these panels test for a variety of things including blood counts, kidney function, liver function, electrolyte abnormalities, and several other endocrine related values. This is a very easy and cost effective strategy used to screen patients. We use the lab values as a quality control check. The more points we have over time, the better we are at seeing trends. We use the example that blood values are like one frame of a movie. You can get a reasonable idea what is going on in the scene, but when you put several frames together in order, we can start to really understand the storyline. Blood Panels are great for many disease processes, but they do have their limitations. One of the big questions I always get when discussing Wellness Lab Panels is, “Will it find Cancer?” The short answer is "Sometimes". Blood Panels tell you an important part of the story, but we often must use other diagnostics to find a more specific diagnosis.

The next step is often some form of imaging. The modalities include X-Rays, Ultrasounds, CT Scans, MRI’s, and Endoscopy. These all have their place in the diagnostic tree, but the one that tends to provide the easiest and best information at the lowest cost is an abdominal ultrasound (or sonography). When most people think about sonography, they envision a pregnant woman going in for a checkup. This test is safe for the mother and child and yields information that a blood test could not. Sonography has its limitations, but it can be very useful when looking at the organs that reside inside the abdomen. This includes the liver, gallbladder, kidneys, adrenal glands, stomach, intestines, spleen, bladder, prostate, uterus, ovaries, and numerous lymph nodes. The ability to “look” at organs in a safe way without the need for anesthesia or surgery is a useful tool and one the we continue to find ways to advance.

In pet care, the term “geriatric” has been a little vague. Technically, geriatric implies that the pet is in the last 25% of its expected life expectancy. This is probably around 9-10 years for cats and small dogs and can go down to 6 years for larger dogs! In recent studies of geriatric dogs >9 years of age, ultrasounds found abnormalities in 80% of the patients studied. In a human geriatric ultrasound study, 85% of cases had a diagnosis either confirmed or refuted with the aid of a sonogram. We must remember these numbers and continue to use the very safe and available resources that allow us to practice more proactive medicine. This will enable for us to keep our pets healthier and happier for a longer period of time. Please contact Firehouse Animal Health Center at 512.980.2080 if you have any questions regarding ultrasound screening for your pet.

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