Your dog has an x-ray (radiograph) coming up. You may be wondering about the process during the appointment and how you can prepare. In this post, our Greensboro vets explain what you can expect when you take your dog for an x-ray.
How do x-rays work?
An X-ray is a form of electromagnetic energy carried in waves by photons. An x-ray beam produces energy that is absorbed by mineralized tissues or hard materials in your dog’s body, such as teeth or bones. Soft tissues such as kidneys and liver absorb some x-rays, while no x-rays are absorbed by air. Lead completely absorbs all x-rays.
Your dog may need to be repositioned so each of the necessary angles can be viewed and captured. It usually takes about 10 minutes to take x-rays. The digital x-ray images are instantly ready for your vet to review.
This helpful tool is most useful for looking at solid tissues, and seeing areas of the body with contrasting tissue densities.
What can vets diagnose with x-rays?
Vets frequently use x-rays to examine your pet’s bones, internal organs and tissues so they can diagnose issues such as fractures in bones, foreign objects your pet may have swallowed, bladder stones and more.
X-rays can help your vet capture two-dimensional images and detect pregnancy, enlarged organs and some tumors. The silhouette of a heart can easily be seen with an x-ray, as can large blood vessels and fluid in the lungs. Many organs in the abdomen can be examined and any air trapped in the intestines can be detected.
Veterinarians also commonly use x-rays to examine bones in limbs and the spine. However, joints may be more challenging to observe due to the density of soft tissues in ligaments or tendons. If x-rays of these areas are being taken, your vet will likely be looking for abnormal swelling in a joint, cavities or abnormal orientation or positioning of bones.
The examination may lead to a diagnosis such as cancer or heart disease.
X-ray technology is valuable in many circumstances. However, it cannot help us obtain a detailed view of tissues, ligaments and organs. It may also be more difficult to distinguish between organs if your pet has either very little body fat or is extremely obese.
The inside of the skull cannot be properly observed with an x-ray since the bones in the cranium absorb all x-rays, preventing us from seeing the brain tissue.
We may need other diagnostic imaging tools such as computed tomography (CT scans) to detect structural abnormalities deep within the body, such as abscesses, some tumors, hematomas, occult fractures and vascular changes.
Ultrasound is more appropriate for diagnosing conditions such as kidney stones, pancreatitis, and abdominal pain or enlarged abdominal organs. We can also use this tool to perform needle biopsies when we need to extract a cell sample from organs to be tested in the lab.
How can I prepare my dog for their x-ray appointment?
Your vet will often do an x-ray when you bring your pet in so they can have a closer look at an issue. For this reason, you don’t need to do any preparation beforehand. However, they will take a few minutes to explain the procedure and what they are looking for.
Will my dog be sedated during the x-ray?
To capture a clear x-ray, positioning is critical. We sometimes need to sedate animals to ensure they remain both still and compliant. If your dog is calm, not in very much pain, and is able to lay in a comfortable position while the vet takes the image, sedation will not be needed.
Conversely, if your dog acts edgy, squirms or is in pain the vet will recommend sedation. Other reasons sedation may be required include if the x-ray needs to capture images of the spine, skull or teeth, or if the dog’s muscles need to be relaxed to obtain the clearest image possible.
Are x-rays safe for dogs?
While the use of x-rays is generally considered safe for dogs, radiation is involved and so x-rays 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 technology and your dog'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 particular case so that you can decide whether you want your dog to have an x-ray.
How much will my dog's x-rays cost?
There are a range of factors that will dictate the cost of your dog'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 pup's x-rays, ask your vet for an estimate before proceeding.
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.