Why does my pet need x-rays?
For decades, radiographs, commonly known as x-rays, have been the most common form of medical imaging used by veterinarians. Like other medical imaging techniques, radiographs are non-invasive, which means there’s no need to make an incision on any part of your pet’s body to get an image. Radiographs are also cost-effective. Continue reading to learn how x-rays help your vet diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses in cats and dogs.
What is a radiograph?
A radiograph, or x-ray, is a two-dimensional image that shows an internal view of specific regions of the body. The black, white, and gray images show bones, organs, and other internal body structures.
Medical imaging is one of the basic diagnostic tools that vets use to get pictures of certain areas of your pet’s body for disease or injury diagnosis and making a prognosis for recovery. Imaging provides a substantial amount of valuable information about the inside of your pet’s body by non-invasive means. Four types of medical imaging procedures are generally performed in veterinary medicine - radiographs (x-rays), ultrasound, CT scans, and MRI scans.
Traditionally, pet x-rays are captured on actual film. However, many veterinary hospitals are now using digital images that allow images to be captured and saved on a secure server. This can help ensure that vets can access the radiograph results at any time and can also share the images with a specialist if there is a need to.
The image is generated by an x-ray beam passing through the body and the varying degrees of absorption of the beam’s electromagnetic waves in different body structures. Bone shows up as white on x-ray film because it absorbs more x-ray beams than air, which appears black. The degree of absorption varies in various organs of the body. This can help make it easier for your vet to read and interpret the radiograph results.
For example, if your pet swallowed a ball, the object will be distinctly outlined on the x-ray image of the animal’s abdomen due to the difference in the beam absorption rates between the ball and the organs of the abdominal cavity.
What is the purpose of performing x-rays on pets?
- Provide a picture of your pet’s skeletal structure and composition
- Provide an image of the structure and composition of large body cavities
- As a part of a dental procedure
- As routine care for senior pets (screening for arthritis, cancer, etc.)
The list of reasons why vets may recommend radiographs is quite long. The most common uses include:
- Trauma or injury
- Persistent coughing
- Abnormal blood work
- Digestive upsets (vomiting, diarrhea, constipation)
- Unexplained weight loss or gain in weight
- Seizures or fainting spells
- Endocrine or metabolic diseases (Diabetes mellitus, Cushing’s disease, etc.)
- Extreme lethargy
- To determine the stage of cancer
- Tooth and gum problems (Periodontal disease)
X-rays are particularly useful for diagnosing fractures, foreign items inside your pet’s body, pneumonia, and arthritis. For example, if your pet is favoring a limb, your vet may take an x-ray to look for possible causes such as a broken bone, arthritis, etc.
If your dog is suffering from frequent bouts of coughing, a chest x-ray may reveal pneumonia, bronchitis, or a mass.
A heart murmur detected during your pet’s wellness check may call for a chest x-ray to determine whether there is an abnormality in the heart’s size and associated structures.
A senior pet’s routine health monitoring may include x-rays to check for any signs of abnormalities in the internal organs, any masses, as well as bone and joint problems including arthritis. Early detection of potential issues can help improve prognosis and ensure a better quality of life for your senior pet in his twilight years.
Radiograph results can help your vet formulate the best treatment plan for your pet’s problem including deciding whether there is a need for more tests and procedures, including surgery.
Types of X-Rays for Dogs and Cats
When it comes to radiographs, the smaller the focal region, the better will be the image details. This will help a vet interpret the x-ray results and detect any abnormality that may be present in the specific region of interest.
The most common types of pet x-rays include chest x-rays, joint x-rays, limb x-rays, abdominal x-rays, and dental x-rays.
How are x-rays taken?
The x-ray machine that is used for pets is generally similar to humans but it’s smaller. The procedure involves exposing your pet to x-ray beams. Your pet is positioned in such a way that only a specific location is exposed to the x-ray beam.
There may be a need to administer a sedative or short-acting anesthesia to your pet to carry out the procedure. Sedation reduces anxiety and stress as well as controls pain that can be caused by manipulation if your pet is suffering from a painful disorder such as a fracture or arthritis. It can also help ensure that good quality images can be taken. Chemical restraint lessens the need for the intensity of manual restraint, which leads to fewer poor or unacceptable radiographs and usually shortens the time required to complete the exam.
For dental x-rays, a specialized x-ray machine is used to take images of your pet’s teeth, gums, roots of the teeth, jawbone, and other associated structures. Your pet needs to be placed under general anesthesia so the x-ray technician can position the dental x-ray film inside the animal’s mouth against the teeth. Dental x-rays can help diagnose the presence of an infection, tooth resorption, bone loss or fracture, cracked tooth roots, and other abnormalities below the surface of the tooth.
Will radiation harm my pet?
The amount of radiation that your pet is exposed to during a routine x-ray procedure is very low and harmless.
What is the difference between an x-ray and an ultrasound?
An ultrasound is an imaging modality that is performed by vets to have an internal image of soft tissue structures of the body. While x-rays use electromagnetic beams, an ultrasound uses soundwave echoes to generate an image of the organ that’s being examined. Ultrasound provides a more detailed picture of individual organs, making it possible to distinguish between soft tissues, masses, and fluid. X-rays take static images, thus the procedure generally takes less time than an MRI or ultrasound.
The results of an x-ray coupled with an ultrasound image can give your vet a full picture of what could be going on inside your pet’s body. If you have any questions and/or concerns about x-rays and other medical imaging procedures for pets, do consult your vet.
Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your pet’s injury or another condition?
Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores.