When I was doing my externship at the Animal Medical Center in New York City back in 1987, between college and veterinary school, I can recall how the diagnostic use of ultrasound was just starting to be employed in helping sort out difficult diagnostic dilemmas. Twenty three years later, the use of ultrasound is now often considered a routine diagnostic procedure in working up most chronically ill pets in general veterinary practice. Along with baseline blood work, including CBC/differential blood counts, blood chemistry profiles and urine analyses, both x-rays and ultrasound are now considered to be standard components of thorough workups.
Not only can ultrasound detect sensitive organ changes than are often apparent from blood work or x-rays, but ultrasound and ultrasound-guided biopsies now offer much less invasive ways of making a definitive diagnosis; whereas in the past surgery was often needed. The biggest area I have seen ultrasound often circumvent unnecessary surgery is the questionable conclusion of an intestinal foreign body causing vomiting, as well as in differentiating and/or diagnosing inflammatory bowel disease from cancer. Even with ultrasound-guided biopsies, there are occasions where either endoscopy or surgical biopsies are needed to differentiate various chronic digestive disorders in dogs and cats. Ultrasound or echocardiograms of the heart have revolutionized our early detection of heart disease, as well as proper and effective medical management of the specific cardiac disease. An even newer technological development in small animal medicine includes the use of a laparoscope, which is even less invasive than ultrasound in diagnosing early abdominal and chest disorders. With the increasing specialization of both human and veterinary medicine, the use of diagnostic ultrasound, echocardiograms and laparoscopes should only be done by qualified veterinary specialists who perform these tests regularly, rather than general veterinary practitioners, for definitive diagnoses in my opinion.