Ultrasonography of the cisterna chyli has been used in humans to diagnose increased lymphatic flow or lymph flow obstruction and to guide percutaneous embolization of the thoracic duct via the cisterna chyli. The aim of this study was to describe the ultrasonographic characteristics of the dorsal portion of cisterna chyli in dogs and cats with chylous ascites or chylothorax and in a group of healthy dogs and cats. The aorta and the cranial mesenteric artery were used as anatomic landmarks. Ultrasonography was performed before and 2 h after a fatty meal in healthy dogs and cats. The visualized structure was confirmed to be a dilated cisterna chyli at necropsy in a dog with chylous ascites. The confirmed or presumed cisterna chyli was consistently detected using ultrasonography in nonfasted healthy animals and clinically affected animals and appeared as an anechoic tubular structure, without detectable flow, at the right dorsolateral aspect of the aorta. It had a similar ultrasonographic appearance in patients with chyloabdomen and in nonfasted healthy dogs and cats. There was considerable overlap in diameters of the cisterna chyli for affected and healthy animals. The shape and size of the cisterna chyli in an individual animal were variable during the same ultrasound examination and between different examinations. This study demonstrated the appearance of the presumed dorsal portion of the cisterna chyli by ultrasonography and might provide useful preliminary data for further studies into the feasibility of ultrasound-guided injections or aspirations of the cisterna chyli in dogs and cats.