If your dog or cat is booked to have an x-ray (radiograph) or CT scan, you may be wondering how the appointment will work and how you can prepare. Below, our San Diego vets share what you can expect when you bring your dog to us for an x-ray.
About CT Scans And X-rays On Cats and Dogs
Computed tomographic imaging, also known as a "CT" or "cat scan" for cats and dogs, works by producing multiple individual images or "slices" throughout a region of interest in the body through the use of radiation (x-rays) and a computer. A common comparison to an image produced by a CT scanner is individual slices of bread that make up a complete 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. 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-ray rays pass through your body, and they are absorbed in different volumes depending on the density of the material that they have to pass through.
What can dog or cat X-rays and CT scans help vets diagnose?
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 assist veterinarians in identifying certain tumors, pregnancy, and enlarged organs that may help in the diagnosis of conditions like heart disease or cancer. No organ, tissue, or ligament can be seen in detail using X-ray technology. Other diagnostic imaging, like MRI and ultrasound, is more helpful in these situations. A pregnant dog's X-ray can also help you get ready for the birth of the puppies by revealing how many puppies your dog is carrying and whether a c-section might be necessary.
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.
How can I prepare for my dog or cat's X-ray or CT scan appointment?
Often an x-ray and CT scans are done when the animal is brought in to have an issue looked at by the vet. For that reason, no preparation is required. Your vet will examine your pet, then if an x-ray or CT is required, they will take some time to explain the procedure and what they will be looking for.
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 my dog or cat be sedated when they have their X-ray or CT scan?
Sedation is sometimes required to get a clear X-ray. If your dog or cat is calm, not in too much pain, and able to lay in a comfortable position while the X-ray or CT scan is being taken, sedation will not be necessary.
On the other hand, sedation will be suggested if your dog or cat is jittery, apprehensive, or in pain. Sedation may also be used during your pet's x-ray or scan if the dog or cat's muscles need to be relaxed in order to obtain a clear image or if the skull, teeth, or spine are being examined using x-ray technology.
It is very safe to perform a CT scan. CT scans use ionizing radiation, similar to an X-ray, but at doses that are safe for animals. Your pet will need general anesthesia because they must remain still during the CT scan.
Are X-rays and CT scans safe for dogs and cats?
While X-rays and CT scanners are generally considered safe for dogs and cats, radiation is involved, so X-rays and CT scanners are typically used only infrequently and as diagnostic tools. In some cases, veterinarians will use X-ray technology to determine a dog's pregnancy; however, other forms of imaging, such as ultrasound, may 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. Your veterinarian will be able to give you an understanding of the risks versus the benefits in your dog's and cat's particular case so that you can decide whether you want your dog or cat to have an x-ray or CT scan.
How much will my dog or cat's X-rays or CT scan cost?
The cost of your dog's or cat's x-rays will be determined by a variety of factors, including 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, consult with your veterinarian first.
CT scans are the same as X-rays, the cost will be different based on what needs to be done to your pet. The entire process of a pet CT scan takes about 45 minutes to an hour, not including anesthesia so the price can change.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.