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Diagnostic imaging for your dog or cat: CT Scans, X-Rays and More

Diagnostic imaging capabilities allow your vet to efficiently produce accurate diagnostic information about your pet's condition and provide immediate treatment options. The imaging tool used will vary depending on the condition that is being diagnosed. Our Rock Springs vets talk about the various types of diagnostic imaging for your cat or dog such as CT scans, x-rays, ultrasounds and more.

X-Rays or Radiography For Your Dog or Cat

The most commonly used form of diagnostic imaging in medicine is the X-ray or Radiography. X-rays allow for an internal view of your pet's bones, tissues, and internal organs so that they can diagnose problems 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.

X-ray technology is able to show an overall view of the dense internal workings of your pet but they will not provide a detailed view of your pet's organs, tissues, or ligaments. If a more detailed view is necessary for diagnosis then your vet will opt for other diagnostic imaging such as MRI and Ultrasound which will be much more beneficial in these cases.

X-rays are painless, non-invasive, and considered very safe for dogs and cats. X-rays, particularly digital X-rays, use only very low doses of radiation. Because the level of radiation exposure required to perform radiography is very low, even X-rays of pregnant dogs are safe. Sedation is sometimes required in order to get a clear image of your body. If your dog or cat is calm, not in too much pain, and able to lay in a comfortable position while the X-ray is being taken, sedation will not be necessary. There are some pets that are unable to relax while going through the diagnostic process and so these pets may be sedated in order to keep them calm as well as make things easier for your vet.

Ultrasound Imaging For Your Dog or Cat

Sometimes our cat or dog may eat objects that they shouldn't or they can develop conditions such as cysts or pregnancy which are unable to be seen using the standard x-ray. Ultrasounds are a form of imaging technology that transmits sound waves into your pet’s body to produce a 'picture' of a specific body part. Veterinary ultrasounds are non-invasive and can be used to diagnose or evaluate problems with your pet's internal organs or check on your pet's pregnancy.

Ultrasounds provide your vet with the opportunity to examine the structure of your cat or dog's organs so we can discover and identify blockages, tumors or other problems.

Depending on the type of ultrasound your pet will be receiving and where on the body your vet will be examining, there will be different methods of preparation. Speak to your vet to find out how to prepare your pet for their ultrasound. You may be required to withhold food and water for between 8 and 12 hours, particularly for abdominal ultrasounds. We can best examine the urinary bladder when it is full of urine. This is why your cat or dog should not urinate for about 3 to 6 hours before the ultrasound, if possible.

It is most likely that your vet will shave the area on your cat or dog that they will be performing the ultrasound. While most pets will remain still and cooperative during the ultrasound, some will need to be sedated if they are anxious or unable to be controlled.

PET/CT Scans For Your Dog or Cat

Computed Tomography - CT Scans for Dogs & Cats

The high-resolution images produced by the CT machine help your veterinary team to evaluate your pet's anatomy in great detail far beyond the capabilities of the X-ray machine.

CT scanners provide your vet with not only an incredibly detailed view of the skeletal structure of your cat or dog but also of the soft tissues. CT technology is most commonly used to generate images of the spine, nasal cavity, inner ear, bones/joints, and the chest/lungs. We can also use the CT machine to assess lymph nodes, the thyroid gland, abdominal organs, the skull/brain, and vascular structures.

Positron Emission Tomography - PET Scans for Dogs & Cats

A CT scan combined with the use of a contrast agent given to your pet intravenously (IV), allows vets to see increased areas of blood flow in the animal's body. PET scans aid in the detection of cancer and areas of inflammation. In humans, PET scans are used to give doctors a detailed view of how the patient's tissues and organs are working. The most common usage of PET scans is for the diagnosis of certain types of cancer.

CT & PET Scan Process

One thing that the CT and PET scans have in common is that your pet will need to stay still for the entirety of the procedure. Because of this, general anesthesia is commonly used to put your pet to sleep while your vet performs the imaging. Your pet's vital signs are closely monitored while under anesthesia throughout the entire CT/PET process. In most cases, a CT/PET scan is completed in a fairly short amount of time. Once the scan is complete the images will typically be interpreted by a specialist and a detailed report with findings and diagnostic recommendations will be sent to the vet handling your pet's treatment.

MRI - Veterinary Magnetic Resonance Imaging for Dogs & Cats

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has been readily available to help diagnose human health concerns since the early 1980s, but it wasn't until recently that it started to be looked at as a part of routine diagnostic imaging for cats and dogs.

MRI scans can provide your vet with high-resolution, detailed images of your pet's soft tissues including the brain, spinal cord, ligaments, tendons, and abdominal organs. For many types of soft tissue injuries or diseases, the use of veterinary MRIs can provide a more detailed image of your pet's body than other diagnostic imaging tools such as X-Rays or CT Scans.

If your dog or cat is exhibiting symptoms such as limping, lameness, seizures, joint pain, neck pain, back pain, or paralysis, an MRI might be recommended to help diagnose the cause of your pet's symptoms. 

On average an MRI for a dog or cat can take roughly 45 minutes from start to finish. For an MRI to be successful the patient needs to remain absolutely still. In order to ensure that your pet's MRI is successful, a general anesthetic will be administered to your dog or cat prior to their scan MRI scan. Vets typically recommend blood tests and X-rays be done before the MRI to help ensure that your pet is strong enough to be put under general anesthetic.

Diagnostic Imaging For Your Dog or Cat at Mountainaire Animal Clinic

Our Rock Springs board-certified specialists and emergency vets are pleased to provide advanced veterinary diagnostics including CT scans and ultrasound. These diagnostic tools allow us to provide you (or your primary care vet) with an accurate diagnosis of your pet's medical issues. Contact us to learn more about the advanced veterinary care and diagnostic imaging at Mountainaire Animal Clinic.

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 cat or dog might require the use of diagnostic imaging for diagnosis, please contact our Rock Springs vets to schedule a visit.

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