Diagnostic imaging allows our veterinarians the opportunity to view and monitor the health of your pet's internal structures. Here, our Columbia vets discuss the purpose of diagnostic imaging and what to expect from your cat or dog's visit to our veterinary diagnostic laboratory for X-rays or CT scans.

Routine Diagnostic Imaging for Dogs & Cats

Diagnostic imaging tools such as CT scans and X-rays for dogs and cats are used to help the vet gain valuable insight into the internal functions and state of their health.

Electromagnetic radiation and other technologies are used in routine diagnostic imaging procedures for dogs and cats. They capture extremely detailed images of your pet's bones, soft tissues, and other internal structures so your vet can offer an accurate diagnosis and plan effective treatments.

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

Diagnostic imaging like X-rays and CT scans are vital to help meet the medical needs of pets.

X-rays allow veterinarians to see your pet's bones, tissues, and internal organs, allowing them to diagnose problems such as broken bones, bladder stones, swallowing foreign objects, and more. These can assist veterinarians in detecting tumors, pregnancy, and enlarged organs, which may lead to a diagnosis of heart disease or cancer. However, X-ray technology cannot provide a detailed view of organs, tissues, and ligaments.

The CT machine's high-resolution images allow us to evaluate your pet's anatomy in great detail, which we would not be able to see with standard X-rays. CT scanners provide excellent detail of the body's bony and soft tissue structures.

What to Expect During a Routine Diagnostic Imaging Appointment

CT scans and X-rays are types of diagnostic imaging performed at a veterinary diagnostic lab. While they both provide us with a look at your pet's internal systems, they are quite different.

X-rays for Dogs & Cats

X-rays are performed using a low dose of radiation to create an image detailing the internal structures of your dog or cat.

This procedure is used to evaluate organs and bones and to diagnose conditions such as spinal cord diseases, arthritis, broken bones, bladder stones, and some tumors.

You can also rest easy knowing that X-rays are safe for dogs and cats of all ages and in all conditions. The level of radiation is so low that it can even be used on pets that are pregnant.

What is the process for performing an X-ray?

The standard procedure for performing an X-ray on cats and dogs is as follows:

  • First, the vet will place your pet on the diagnostic imaging table. Your furry friend is generally awake during this procedure unless they are in pain, anxious or unable to stay still. In these cases, the vet may choose to sedate them until the imaging is complete.

  • Next, a special film will be placed underneath the target area of your pet's body.

  • The X-ray machine will be positioned above this area and the images will be taken. The resulting images will show white for dense tissues like bones and varying shades of grey for all soft tissues.

  • If necessary, your vet will reposition your cat or dog to take additional images.

While X-rays have traditionally been captured on physical film, modern X-ray machines can produce digital images that are stored on a computer server. This allows for quick results and easy access during diagnosis and treatment.

CT Scans for Cats & Dogs

CT scans, or CAT scans, for cats and dogs, are useful when assessing the nasal passage, sinuses, lungs, thorax, ears, abdomen, and some orthopedic areas.

A CT scan can be useful for several different conditions including, but not limited to:

  • Physical trauma/injuries
  • Various cancers and tumors
  • Vascular (vein or artery) diseases
  • Planning and guiding other procedures, such as surgery

When CT scans are used for diagnosing imaging, your vet can gain a more distinguished view of the bones and soft tissues.

What is the process for performing a CT scan?

For the scan itself, your pet will be placed on a table that will slowly enter the machine.

Once your cat or dog is securely inside the CT machine, an X-ray tube rotates around the patient to record images from several angles (the suspected health issue will determine the number of images captured) to create slices. The slices are then stacked together to produce a 3D image of your pet without superimposition of other tissues or organs.

How can I prepare my cat or dog for X-rays or CT scans?

Often, an X-ray and CT scan are done when the animal is brought in to have an issue looked at by the vet. For that reason, no preparation is required.

If the imaging appointment was booked ahead of time for your pet, your vet will provide all the instructions you will need for the day of the procedure.

Do cats and dogs need to be sedated for diagnostic imaging?

Sedation is sometimes necessary to obtain a clear X-ray. Sedation will not be required if your dog or cat is calm, not in too much pain, and able to lie in a comfortable position while the X-ray is being performed.

Sedation, on the other hand, will be recommended if your dog or cat is squirmy, agitated, or in pain or if it is an X-ray of their teeth or head. While it may not be necessary in every situation, pets often need to be sedated for CT scans as they are in the machine unattended and need to be very still for the vet to acquire a clear image.

Are X-rays and CT scans safe for pets?

X-rays and CT scans are quick and non-invasive. They also use very low doses of radiation making them quite safe. Speak with your veterinarian if you have any concerns about the use of X-ray or CT scanner technology and the health of your dog or cat. They will be able to explain the risks versus the benefits in your dog's and cat's specific case.

What is the cost of routine diagnostic imaging for dogs and cats? 

The cost of your dog or cat's X-rays or CT scans will be determined by a variety of factors, including the size of your pet, the area being viewed, 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 pet's imaging appointment, consult with your veterinarian first.

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 your pet has sustained an injury or is showing symptoms that may require an examination and tests in our veterinary diagnostics laboratory, please contact our Columbia vets.