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Diagnostic Imaging for Your Dog or Cat

Diagnostic Imaging for Your Dog or Cat

If your pet is scheduled to have an X-ray, ultrasound or another type of imaging done you may have a few questions. Our Citrus Heights vets talk about the different types of diagnostic imaging for cats and dogs and what you can expect during your visit.

Veterinary Diagnostic Imaging in Citrus Heights

Diagnostic imaging tools such as X-rays, ultrasounds and CT scans are used to help the vet gain valuable insight into the internal functions and state of your pet's health.

Electromagnetic radiation and other technologies are used in routine diagnostic imaging procedures for dogs and cats. They capture extremely detailed images of your pet's bones, soft tissues and other internal structures so your vet can offer an accurate diagnosis and plan effective treatments. 

What are X-rays, ultrasounds & CT scans for dogs and cats?

What are the differences between each of these types of imaging tools? Read on to find out:

Radiography (Digital X-Rays)

With a digital X-ray (radiograph) for cats or dogs, we use very low doses of radiation to examine the inside of the body to reveal important information that might not be easily viewed from the outside.

This procedure is used to evaluate organs and bones and to diagnose conditions such as spinal cord diseases, arthritis, broken bones, bladder stones and some tumors.

X-rays use an incredibly low level of radiation which is safe for pets of all ages and even dogs and cats that are pregnant.


This non-invasive diagnostic imaging technique uses sound waves that are transmitted into an animal's body. These sound waves then allow for the production of images that give your vet an all-around view of the internal structures of your cat or dog.

With ultrasound, soft tissue masses or foreign bodies can be distinguished from fluid - which can be difficult to do with a digital X-ray. If your pet has developed a tumor or ingests something he or she shouldn't have, ultrasound can help locate and characterize the objects. This technique is also useful for seeing blood in the abdomen and surrounding the heart.

CT Scans (CAT scans)

Often referred to as a CAT scan or CT scan, computed tomography is useful when assessing the nasal passage, sinuses, lungs, thorax, ears, abdomen and some orthopedic areas.

While CT scans are not offered here, we can refer you to a specialist for one if required.

Your vet might recommend a CT scan if your pet has any condition ranging from lung disease to pulmonary fibrosis, metastatic cancer (before surgery), tumors or masses in the chest cavity, disease in the nasal cavity, trauma to the spine or pelvis, vascular anomalies or orthopedic developmental disease (elbow dysplasia).

CT scans offer improved differentiation between bones and soft tissues than conventional X-rays (radiographs). The animal lies on a table, which slowly advances into the part of the machine performing the scan. CT Scans for dogs or cats only take a short amount of time.

For these types of scans, an X-ray tube rotates around the patient to record images from several angles (the suspected health issue will determine the number of images captured) to create slices. The slices are then stacked together to produce a 3D image of your pet without superimposition of other tissues or organs.

Is sedation needed for diagnostic imaging?

For an X-ray, the answer to this question depends on whether your pet is calm, in pain, and able to lie in a comfortable position for the duration of the X-ray. The vet may still recommend using anesthesia when taking images of certain parts of your pet's skeleton.

Since CT scans require a pet to be completely still, heavy sedation or general anesthesia is required. Your pet's vital signs will be closely monitored while the scan is performed.

If biopsies need to be done before an ultrasound, your pet will require a heavy sedative or short-acting anesthetic to help them relax while the vet performs the procedure and to avoid potential complications. Your vet will notify you if this is required.

What happens after my pet's visit?

Our vets can review results from digital X-rays and ultrasounds in-house and are often able to provide immediate diagnoses for health issues. In some cases, they may need to be sent to a veterinary radiologist for further consultation. If you are waiting for news about CT Scans for which you may be referred to a specialist, we will likely receive the results and review them with you before planning treatment.

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.

Would you like to learn more about what to expect during your pet's upcoming diagnostic visit? Contact Family Friends Veterinary Hospital today.

New Patients Always Welcome

Family Friends Veterinary Hospital is happy to accept new patients! Our vets are passionate about improving the health of Citrus Heights companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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