Diagnostic Imaging for Your Dog or Cat

When your cat or dog is experiencing an internal condition or injury, the vet will need to gain insight into what is happening. The easiest way to do this is with diagnostic imaging. Below, our Doraville vets share some information about X-rays and CT scans and what to expect during your cat or dog's diagnostic imaging appointment.

What is the purpose of CT scans and X-rays for dogs and cats?

Computed tomographic imaging, also known as a "CT" or "cat scan", works by producing multiple individual images or "slices" throughout a region of interest in the body.

The images produced by the CT scan kind of resemble the slices in a loaf of bread. When each 'slice' is put together, it makes the whole 'loaf'.

The CT machine produces two-dimensional slices of a section of your pet’s anatomy and then configures them into a complete image we can view. These slices can also be used to create three-dimensional reconstructions that can be very useful for things like surgical planning. The veterinary specialist or surgeon will utilize these slices to put together a whole image in order to get a better understanding of what is happening within your pet's body and what the next step should be.

X-rays are a quick and non-invasive method of producing an image showing the structures within your pet's body. Mainly your cat's and/or dog's bones. X-rays pass through the body, and they are absorbed in different volumes depending on the density of the material that they have to pass through.

What will the vet see with the X-ray or CT scan?

X-rays are one of the most helpful, and frequently used, tools in both human healthcare and veterinary healthcare. X-rays can help vets to get a view of your pet's bones, tissues, and internal organs so that they can diagnose issues such as broken bones, bladder stones, swallowing foreign objects, and more.

X-ray images can help vets spot some tumors, pregnancy, and enlarged organs which may lead to a diagnosis like heart disease or cancer. A detailed view, however, of organs, tissues, and ligaments cannot be obtained using X-ray technology. In these cases, other diagnostic imaging such as MRI and ultrasounds, are more beneficial. If your dog or cat is pregnant, your vet may recommend an X-ray to help view the number of puppies that you should be expecting and to help determine if any type of intervention, such as a c-section, should be planned.

The high-resolution images produced by the CT machine help us to evaluate your pet's anatomy in great detail - a detail that we would otherwise not be able to see using standard X-rays. CT scanners provide excellent detail of bony and soft tissue structures in the body. 

Should I do anything to prepare my cat or dog before diagnostic imaging?

Due to the fact that X-rays and CT scans are most commonly done while your pet is in for an examination after illness, injury or if displaying unusual behavior, you will not need to prepare ahead of time.

If you have an X-ray or CT scan that was booked ahead of time for your pet, your vet will provide all instructions you will need for the day of the procedure.

Will the vets sedate my pet during X-rays or CT scans?

Sedation is sometimes required to get a clear X-ray. Sedation may not be a requirement for any dog or cat, not in much pain, that is able to lie calmly on the table.

On the other hand, if your dog or cat is squirmy, edgy, or in pain, sedation will be recommended. Other reasons why sedation may be used during your pet's X-ray or scan include: if the dog's or cat's muscles need to be relaxed to get a clear image, or when the X-ray is being used on the skull, teeth, or spine.

CT scans, just like X-rays, produce very low doses of radiation making them very safe for pets.

Are there any side effects of diagnostic imaging for pets?

While the use of X-rays and CT scanners is generally considered safe for dogs and cats, radiation is involved. So, X-rays and CTs are typically used only occasionally and generally as diagnostic tools. In some cases, vets will use X-ray technology to glean information about a dog's pregnancy. Other forms, however, of imaging such as ultrasounds, could be used in that case.

If you're concerned about the use of X-ray or CT scanner technology and your dog's or cat's health, speak to your vet. They will be able to give you an understanding of the risks versus the benefits in your dog's and cat's particular case.

What is the cost of X-rays or CT scans for my dog or cat?

There is a range of factors that will dictate the cost of your dog's or cat's X-rays, such as the size of your pet, the area being X-rayed, whether sedation was used, the type of clinic, where your veterinary clinic is located, and more. If you are concerned about the cost of your cat or dog's X-rays, ask your vet for an estimate before proceeding.

The same goes for CT scans if they are needed. Speak with your vet in Doraville to learn more.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. Please make an appointment with your vet for an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition.

If any type of imaging has been recommended for your pet, please contact our Doraville vets to schedule an appointment with our diagnostics lab.