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 Natick 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", 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 reconfigures 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 a 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, swallowed foreign objects, and more.
X-ray images can help vets to spot some tumors, pregnancy, and enlarged organs which may lead to a diagnosis such as heart disease or cancer. A detailed view of organs, tissues, and ligaments cannot be obtained using x-ray technology. In these cases, other diagnostic imaging such as MRI and Ultrasound is more beneficial. An x-ray of a pregnant dog can also help you to prepare for the birth of puppies by allowing you to know how many puppies your dog is expecting, and whether a c-section may be required for any reason.
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, 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.
A CT scan is a very safe procedure. Like an x-ray, CT scans use ionizing radiation, but at doses that are not harmful to pets. Because your pet needs to be still during the CT scan, general anesthesia is required for your pets.
Are x-rays and CT scans safe for dogs and cats?
While the use of x-rays and CT scanners are generally considered safe for dogs and cats, radiation is involved and so x-rays and CTs are typically used only occasionally and generally as a diagnostic tool. In some cases, vets will use x-ray technology to glean information about a dog's pregnancy however other forms of imaging such as ultrasound 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. 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 scans cost?
There is a range of factors that will dictate the cost of your dog's or cat's x-rays including the size of your pet, the area being x-rayed, whether sedation was used, the type of clinic, and 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.
CT scans are the same as X-rays, 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.