CT Scans & X-rays: Diagnostic Imaging for Dogs and Cats

If your pet is scheduled to have diagnostic imaging performed then you may have a few questions about the process and what to expect. Below, our San Angelo vets talk about what will happen during your cat or dog's CT scan or X-ray and how diagnostic imaging can help your vet diagnose and treat your pet.

X-Rays and CT Scans for 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 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.

How are CT scans and X-rays able to help diagnose your pet?

When it comes to both veterinary care and human healthcare, diagnostic imaging tools such as X-rays and CT scans have been incredibly beneficial. X-rays can help vets 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 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. 

What should you do to prepare for routine diagnostic imaging for dogs and cats?

If your pet is brought in to the vet for an urgent or emergency care situation then it is likely that they will want to perform an X-ray or CT scan to get a better look at what is happening. 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 the instructions you will need for the day of the procedure.

Will the process for X-rays and CT scans for cats and dogs include sedation?

If your pet needs to have an X-ray then sedation can be a helpful tool to get your pet to lie still. 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.

Sedation can also be beneficial in situations where the dog or cat is unable to sit still, such as when experiencing pain. 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 CAT scans for cats and dogs safe?

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 CT scans 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.

In the case that you have any questions about how diagnostic imaging affects the health of dogs and cats, please speak with 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.

What are the costs associated with diagnostic imaging for cats and dogs?

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, 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.

Just like X-rays and other diagnostic tools, the cost of your pet's CT scan with be determined by your pet and the clinic that you are at. 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.

If your dog is showing signs of any condition or illness, please reach out to us right away. Our San Angelo vets are here to help with your veterinary needs.