How often are dog pregnancy ultrasounds wrong?

Colour Doppler canine scan
Catherine

Browsing through some of the most popular ways people come across the Animal Ultrasound Association, I noticed that one of the most frequently Googled questions in the context of canine scanning is “how often are pregnancy ultrasounds wrong?”

I’d love to be able to answer that with a statistic. For example, “15% of all ultrasound scans performed in the UK are incorrect,” but unfortunately there is no way of knowing.

If you have found this article by searching for something similar, chances are whoever you have just had an ultrasound scan with has not left you feeling very confident in their abilities. Paying money for a scan and leaving feeling less sure than when you began is an awful feeling.

Before you go posting your scan images in Facebook groups and asking amateurs for their opinions (no, really do not do this), read on!

 

An ultrasound machine is never wrong – but the operator can be

Performing a scan is more difficult than it looks. It requires knowledge of anatomy, ultrasound physics, and it also requires fine motor control and familiarity with the machine’s controls. Owning an ultrasound machine does not automatically qualify an individual to be able to use it, or interpret its images correctly. In fact, nothing does, so if your scanner boasts that they are “fully qualified” in scanning, probe deeper. This is usually a tell-tale sign that they are either untrained, or trained by a company with no real knowledge of ultrasound, who falsely advertise their courses as “qualifying” their students to scan.

  • A CPD-accredited course is not an ultrasound qualification.
  • All of our members have attended at least two training courses, taught by sonographers.
  • The majority of our members have been running scanning businesses for 5 years or more.

 

Warning signs of an inexperienced scanner

  • Offering early scans: An experienced scanner will never routinely perform a scan before 30 days (exceptions might be if you are a regular client and they know you always have your dates spot on). This is not because they cannot scan at 28 or even 26 days days, but to protect against the eventuality that somebody’s dates are a few days off, and remembering that conception does not always occur on the day of mating. They pride themselves on offering a high-quality service, and want to ensure that they can always give you a confident answer. If you pick someone offering to scan earlier than 30 days just because you are dying to know and cannot wait, it’s very likely that you’ll have to find someone more professional to repeat that scan for you a few days later.
  • Offering cheap scans: It’s easy to spot the client who is going to end up being ripped off, because the first question they ask before anything else is “how much do you charge for a scan?” If you’re price-shopping, you’ll definitely be successful in finding the cheapest scanning service around, but if you end up with an equivocal result you will only end up having to pay for another scan. When the price difference between a cheap scan and a professional scan is around £10-20, it really does not make sense to make price your deciding factor. Cheap scans are cheap because the person offering that service has likely not invested very much money in high-quality equipment or training (an exception being those just starting out and looking to build experience). If they didn’t value themselves enough to invest in their education, so they sure as anything don’t value you or your dog. Buy cheap, buy twice!
  • Giving very specific number counts: Ultrasound is awful at estimating the size of the litter. The bitch’s uterus is split into two horns, which frequently crisscross and overlay each other. Unless the litter is very small, it’s almost impossible to give an accurate number count. People who point at the screen counting “one, two, three, four, five, six…” at tiny black sacs in a row are usually counting intestinal loops, and not gestation sacs.

None of the above are absolute proof of inexperience. If you know for sure the person you are using is a fully trained professional with years of experience, they may very well have a talent for estimating litter sizes, they may know you well and offer you earlier scans, or they may give you discounted pricing. But if you are new to having pregnancy scans performed on your animals, chances are none of these will be the case.

To be sure that you are letting a trusted, responsible professional into your home or allowing them to work with your pet, search our database here to find your local AUA scanner.

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