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Diagnostic Imaging For Pets: CT Scans & X-Rays for Dogs & Cats

Diagnostic imaging allows our team to diagnose and monitor a variety of injuries and illnesses in pets. Here, our Westminster vet specialists discuss diagnostics for dogs and cats and how CT scans and X-rays help us while treating your pet.

Routine Diagnostic Imaging for Dogs & Cats

Routine diagnostic imaging procedures for dogs and cats capture detailed images of your pet's bones, soft tissues and other internal structures. These images help your vet deliver an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition and plan effective treatments.

What are CT scans and X-rays for dogs and cats?

Diagnostic imaging helps us gain valuable insight into the function of your pet's internal systems and issues affecting their internal structures. Two of the most common types of diagnostic imaging that we routinely perform are CT scans and X-rays.

Computed tomographic imaging, also known as a 'CT' or 'CAT scan,' produces multiple individual images or 'slices' throughout a region of interest in your cat or dog's body. A common comparison to an image produced by a CT scanner is individual slices of bread that make up a complete loaf. Using this machine, your vet can take a series of images, which are 2D 'slices' and put them together to gain a full 3D view of your pet's structures. This reconstruction of your cat's body can be helpful if you are planning for surgery or any other intensive treatment. Once the images are produced, they are sent to a veterinary specialist to review and interpret. 

An X-ray is a quick, painless test that produces images of the structures inside your cat and/or dog's body. Mainly your cat's and/or dog's bones. X-rays pass through the body and are absorbed in different volumes depending on the bone or tissue density they have to pass through.

When are CT (CAT) scans and X-rays needed for dogs and cats?

While CT scans and X-rays are useful for diagnosing and monitoring health conditions in pets, they are performed differently and used in different situations.

X-rays (Otherwise Known as Digital X-rays or Radiography)

With a digital X-ray (radiograph) for cats or dogs, we use very low doses of radiation to show us the internal structures that we would otherwise be unable to see.

This procedure evaluates organs and bones and diagnoses conditions such as spinal cord diseases, arthritis, broken bones, bladder stones and some tumors.

To help put your mind at ease, we would like to mention that these low radiation levels are perfectly safe for your pet. The level of radiation is so low that it can even be used on pregnant pets.

When performing an X-ray, we will place your pet on the X-ray table with a receiver placed behind or beneath the target area of their body. When an X-ray beam is directed toward your dog's body, it produces energy absorbed by hard materials or mineralized tissues such as bones and teeth. Some soft tissues like the liver and kidneys also absorb X-rays, while air absorbs none. However, lead can completely absorb all X-rays. This is what creates the variations in shades on an X-ray image.

During an X-ray, your dog may need to be repositioned to capture all necessary angles. The procedure usually takes about 10 minutes, and the digital X-ray images are immediately available for your vet to review. 

CT Scans (Also Called CAT scans)

Often referred to as a CAT scan or CT scan, computed tomography is useful when assessing the nasal passage, sinuses, lungs, thorax, ears, abdomen and some orthopedic areas.

Suppose your cat or dog suffers from conditions such as lung disease to pulmonary fibrosis, metastatic cancer (before surgery), tumors or masses in the chest cavity, disease in the nasal cavity, trauma to the spine or pelvis, vascular anomalies or orthopedic developmental disease (elbow dysplasia). In that case, your vet may use CT scans.

When CT scans are used for diagnosing imaging, your vet can gain a more distinguished view of the bones and soft tissues. For the scan itself, your pet will be placed on a table that slowly enters the machine, and a full image will be produced. One of the benefits is that these scans don't take very long to perform.

For these types of scans, 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.

Will my cat or dog need to be sedated for their visit?

Sedation is commonly used to help the vet perform the imaging procedure without issues and minimal risk to people and pets. If your dog or cat can quietly and comfortably lie on the table to the imaging appointment, your vet may proceed without sedation.

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 whether the dog's or cat's muscles need to be relaxed to get a clear image or when the X-ray is used on the skull, teeth, or spine.

A CT scan is a very safe procedure. Like an X-ray, CT scans use ionizing radiation, which is not harmful to pets at the low doses at which they are used.

Is veterinary diagnostic imaging safe for pets?

Radiation is involved while using X-rays and CT scanners is generally considered safe for dogs and cats. So, X-rays and CTs are used only occasionally and generally as diagnostic tools. Sometimes, vets 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.

You can contact your vet to express concerns about diagnostic imaging for cats and dogs. They can explain the risks versus the benefits in your dog's or cat's case.

What do CT scans and X-rays cost for dogs and cats?

As with many other veterinary care services, the costs will vary from clinic to clinic and from pet to pet when you bring your dog or cat in for diagnostic imaging. This is because several different factors contribute to the final cost.

This can include the clinic's location, the practitioner's expertise, and the equipment used. Your pet's age and species and any additional treatments, such as sedation, also affect the final amount you will pay.

Please speak with your vet to discuss your pet's estimated cost and a bill breakdown.

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 is experiencing a medical condition that requires complex diagnostics beyond the scope of your primary vet, please ask them for a referral to our Westminster veterinary specialists today.

New Patients Welcome

Choice Veterinary Specialists is accepting new patients. Our experienced veterinary specialists are passionate about improving the health of Westminster animals with complex healthcare needs. Contact us today.

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