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Buying a Veterinary Ultrasound Machine: Costs, Features, and Advice

The use of ultrasound technology in human medicine is well known, but it's an important tool in veterinary medicine as well. Just like your personal physician, veterinarians use ultrasound imagery to diagnose illness and disease in everything from household pets to farm animals and other livestock. In general, veterinarians and doctors may use the same models in ultrasound machines, though some models are better suited to veterinary care. From pets that fit in the palm of your hand to cattle and horses, vets rely on ultrasounds in their practice.

Benefits of Ultrasound Technology in Vet Care

Veterinarians employ a variety of imaging technologies in diagnosing and treating animals. In addition to ultrasound, vets use x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs. Which technology a vet chooses depends on his or her particular needs.

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Ultrasound is a popular choice due to its non-invasive nature and the fact it has no side effects. In addition, it offers quick results at a lower cost than many other imaging options. Veterinarians often use ultrasound to evaluate organs and diagnose medical issues like bladder stones. Ultrasounds of the heart help diagnose any issues with blood flow or heart problems.

The same way doctors use ultrasound to guide certain procedures with their human patients, vets apply the technology on their animal patients during biopsies or when obtaining urine directly from the bladder.

What to Look for in a Veterinary Ultrasound Machine

Before buying an ultrasound machine, a basic understanding of its technical specifications and what they mean is key. Frequency determines how deeply the ultrasound's waves penetrate. Higher frequency, in the 10 to 16 MHz range, has lower penetration for more superficial images. Lower frequency, in the 1 to 2 MHz range, has deeper penetration.

Lower power output is better for the skin, as higher power output may damage the tissues. You also have numerous imaging types to look for, including CW Doppler, 3D and 4D options, DICOM, and color Doppler.

Veterinary Presets

Presets allow you to minimize the amount of time spent making adjustments for your imagery. Ultrasound machines that come with veterinary presets save a lot of time. By setting the ultrasound to view a dog's heart, the image's algorithms change, including contrast, depth, frequency, and focus.

Ask the vendor about presets, such as whether they are fixed or if you can adjust them.

Is It Easy to Use?

Before buying, always test the equipment. Is it intuitive? Can you easily adjust or freeze the image and add patient details? How long does the scanner take to start up? You want a machine that's easy to use and starts quickly.

Warranty and Support

How long does the manufacturer's warranty last, and what happens after it expires? What type of service contract does the vendor offer, and what do these services cover? You need to ask about cancellation fees, whether the contract includes parts and labor, and if they give guaranteed response times. Remember, you can negotiate some of these terms. Once you sign a service contract, negotiation ends and you're tied to the contract. Ask plenty of questions before signing anything.

Replacement Parts

Parts wear out with use and need replacing. If your chosen machine's replacement parts are difficult to find or too expensive, you may want to find an alternative machine. Parts you should expect to replace eventually include casters, keys and buttons, keyboards, monitors, power supplies, and upper control panels.

Veterinary Ultrasound Prices

With so many available features and sizes, ultrasounds vary greatly in price. Small portable machines start at around $2,000 or $3,000 and go all the way up to $50,000 and beyond. Of course, just about any ultrasound machine works in veterinary medicine. The model you choose doesn't have to have the word "veterinary" in the title.

If you buy a refurbished machine, you stand to save a significant amount of money, 40 percent or more, depending on how old the model is. If you choose to purchase a secondary unit (meaning one that has been sold once before), buy the newest model you can find that fits your needs and your budget. It will be easier to find parts as well as effect repairs on newer models.

Additional Costs

When budgeting the amount for your ultrasound machine, expect to pay around $300 for delivery. Before purchasing, ask about what type of training your purchase includes. Most vendors include at least a thorough walk-through of the unit and features. However, if you and/or your techs need more detailed training, expect to pay at least $1,000, depending on how much training you require.

The maintenance agreement costs around 15 percent of the purchase price. Buying a backup transducer probe runs you around $1,000, though it can be as low as $500 and as high as $15,000. A printer costs, on average, $2,000.

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