Imagine searching Amazon for “puppy” and buying a new dog from the top five results that show up. Imagine not specifying the breed, knowing nothing about the seller, knowing nothing about the animal’s background – but the price is good, so you’d take the chance, right?

No, of course you wouldn’t.

Think this is a sensationalist comparison? Not to me! I’m as passionate about ultrasound as you are about your animals. An ultrasound machine is an expensive piece of medical equipment that you are planning to use on your pets and their unborn puppies: animals at their most vulnerable stage of life. It’s worth taking the time to be sure that you are buying something that is safe and fit for purpose.


What ‘species’ of ultrasound machine should you choose?

The first choice you need to make is between mechanical sector or electronic beamforming technology, and these really are worlds apart. Mechanical sector scanners are generally priced at $1000 or less on marketplaces like eBay and Amazon, and they have probes which look like this:

Mechanical sector probe

This is technology that was at its peak during the 1970s, which is why it’s so cheap now. You can get some very good mechanical sector scanners which have been modernized and improved, such as the MSU3 ultrasound scanner. Even so, the image is going to be coarse and challenging to interpret. You can see it in use in the video below.


Ultrasound machines with electronically focused beams generally perform much better, but even so, the variation is enormous: from wireless scanners like this right through to high resolution scanners like the ScanX or Apogee 1000 Lite. The important thing is not to overpay for whatever standard of image quality you choose.

Everyone has a different budget, and where you start is not as important as who you choose to do business with.


Knowing the seller

Buying from a genuine ultrasound company means you will have lifelong support, whether you spend $900 or $9000. It also means that the price you pay will be fair and appropriate to the standard of machine you are buying.

Buying from an anonymous third party based in China via a platform like Amazon or eBay, or even buying from a we-sell-everything-breeder company, will leave you with little to no support with your scanning. Some people buy a book, teach themselves and get on just fine, but the vast majority who try to go it alone struggle and ultimately give up. It is important to work with a company who is on hand to support you, and even to attend an accredited training course.

If you do fall in love with scanning and decide to upgrade your machine in the future, choosing a good ultrasound company to work with means you can trade your old machine back in with them when it’s time to upgrade.


Knowing the machine’s provenance

The UK, USA and Canada have strict standards regarding ultrasonic outputs and their continuous measurement. China does not. Most of the scanners sold through online marketplaces or by companies who just source machines from Alibaba and put their sticker on the front do not conform with our standards and should not, technically, be imported or used in our countries.

Is it likely that they are doing any thermal or mechanical damage? No. When scanning in B-mode, it’s not likely at all, particularly in the hands of someone who has been trained in the safe use of ultrasound. But given that we are scanning animals at their most vulnerable time of life, wouldn’t you rather use a scanner that is constantly monitoring and controlling these outputs? And if you’ll be scanning for other people as a business, wouldn’t you be more comfortable knowing that – if challenged – you can look that person in the eye and tell them for sure you know how to make sure you are scanning safely?

People often say “I know ultrasound is safe because we use it to scan pregnant women.” Yes, we do. But the equipment used to scan pregnant women is 100% compliant with FDA, EU and UK laws on ultrasonic outputs, and the sonographer performing that scan is highly trained and knows exactly what outputs they can use for what stage of pregnancy. Neither of these things are true if you buy a scanner from a company you don’t know, and receive no help or training.

If you think sites like Amazon perform any kind of quality control over what is listed on their websites, think again. They have allowed and enabled millions of dollars of fake and non-functional medical equipment to be sold to people across the world during this pandemic – pulse oximeters being just one example – so do not think for one minute that there are any checks performed on veterinary ultrasound scanners listed for sale.


Top tips for getting started

  • Speak to the seller. If you can’t find a way to get hold of them and discuss your requirements, there certainly won’t be any way of getting hold of them if you have a problem in the future!
  • Ask about training and support, and check their credentials. If they’re offering you training, who are they? What qualifications and experience do they have with ultrasound?

If you have questions for us, please email us here.