Diagnostic imaging (x-rays or ultrasound) helps us get a picture of what's going on inside your pet. We look for things that might be out of place or things that shouldn't be there, or diseases that may be going on that we can visibly see on the inside of your pet. Imaging allows us to safely look inside your pet without having to get more invasive with it.
The main ones that you'll see happen at most veterinary facilities are radiographs, which is just a fancy word for an x-ray, or ultrasound, which uses ultrasound waves to look at the inside of the dog's organs. Specialty hospitals will often have different types of diagnostic imaging, such as a CT scan or an MRI, that a specialist or a veterinary radiologist would do for you.
A veterinary radiologist did extra schooling after professional school to become certified and specialized in all diagnostic imaging forms. A veterinary radiologist is someone that we would refer you to a specialty hospital to see. We would do that mainly for things like MRIs or CT scans, where there's something more specific that we need to look for. Or if we need a second opinion, if there's something that doesn't make sense to us and we'd like to have a professional look at them, then we would send the x-ray or ultrasound over to have a veterinary radiologist read it and review it and give us their opinion.
Many times what we're looking for is something that's not quite right with your pet. If we're looking at, say, an x-ray of their chest, we're looking at their heart and lungs, so we're looking for abnormalities in those two things. If we're looking at an x-ray of their belly, we might be looking at their different organs to look for tumors or looking at their intestines to see if they've eaten something. We're seeking more information about why we see the symptoms that we see in the dog.
We can also look for congenital issues. We see hernias and many other things when we take x-rays. Ultrasound is a bit more specific for looking inside the organs. We can more easily see masses that might be hiding, we can evaluate the gallbladder, and we can look at the kidneys, bladder, and adrenal glands, which are so small that you can't see them on an x-ray. We're also looking for a thickening of the intestines. So the ultrasound is a lot more sensitive and a lot more specific for different diseases that we may not look at as well with the x-ray.
The ultrasound doesn't give you a good picture of the chest, except for the heart, so if someone says you need an echocardiogram, that would be an ultrasound specifically of the heart. And that would be something that a veterinary cardiologist would do, although it's still considered diagnostic imaging.
Yes. We do x-rays so infrequently on dogs that the amount of x-ray that they're exposed to is so minimal that it's very, very safe. It may be a little bit stressful for your pet, but it's generally over so quickly that they are done before they even realize that anything is happening. And most animals are good for it, and so we don't worry too much about it. Ultrasound imaging is also very safe. It's the same thing that they do for imaging babies in the womb, so there are no side effects to it at all. It is an excellent way to get more information about your pet without doing something more invasive or more hurtful or harmful to them. So it's a way that your doctor can get more information on what's going on with your dog without doing anything that might potentially harm them or cause them pain.
Most of the time, no, as we can get the information that we need without sedation. There are some cases where we may want to sedate your pet. And most of the time, that's because we're looking for a specific view that might be uncomfortable for the pet while we're manipulating their limbs or something like that. Or suppose we're looking for x-rays to look for hip dysplasia for animals in the future. In that case, those typically work best under anesthesia because you're pulling on their legs to get a really good image, and it's just not fair to the dog to ask them to hold still while we're doing that. The majority of animals are excellent, and we don't need to do any sedation. Every once in a while, we'll get a cat or a dog that'll be nervous and might need some, but most of the time, we're very upfront with you about whether your dog would need some sedation to do that. And I would say the vast majority of our pets do not need it for diagnostic imaging.
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