Diagnostic Imaging: X-Rays vs. CT Scans vs. MRIs

Diagnostic imaging is an exceptional tool used by our Boulder and Westminster vets to help us pinpoint the cause, extent, or seriousness of your pet's illness or injury. Depending on your pet's condition, the type of diagnostic imaging used will vary. Below are a few of the tests that your vet may recommend to help diagnose or treat your dog or cat.

Radiography - X-Rays for Dogs & Cats

X-rays are one of the most useful and widely used tools in veterinary medicine. X-rays can provide your veterinarian with an image of your pet's bones, tissues, and internal organs, allowing them to diagnose issues such as broken bones, bladder stones, swallowing foreign objects, and more. X-ray images can assist veterinarians in detecting tumors, pregnancy, and enlarged organs, which may lead to a diagnosis of heart disease or cancer.

The organs, tissues, or ligaments of your pet cannot be seen in detail by an X-ray due to limitations in the technology. Other types of diagnostic imaging, like MRI and ultrasound, are more helpful in these circumstances.

For dogs and cats, X-rays are non-invasive, painless, and extremely safe. X-rays, particularly digital X-rays, use extremely low radiation doses. Because the amount of radiation required for radiography is so low, even pregnant dogs can have their X-rays taken. Sedation may be required to obtain a clear image of your body. If your dog or cat is calm, not in too much pain, and able to lie in a comfortable position while the X-ray is being taken, sedation will not be required. If your pet is agitated, anxious, or in pain, sedation may be required.

PET/CT Scan for Pets

Computed Tomography - CT Scans for Dogs & Cats

The CT machine's high-resolution images allow your veterinary team to evaluate your pet's anatomy in great detail, which would be impossible with standard X-rays.

CT scanners provide your veterinarian with an excellent image of your dog or cat's bony and soft tissue structures. The spine, nasal cavity, inner ear, bones/joints, and chest/lungs are the most commonly imaged structures with CT technology. The CT scanner can also be used to examine lymph nodes, the thyroid gland, abdominal organs, the skull/brain, and vascular structures.

Positron Emission Tomography - PET Scans for Dogs & Cats

Veterinarians can see increased areas of blood flow in your pet's body using a CT scan and an intravenous (IV) contrast agent. PET scans assist in the detection of cancer and inflammation. PET scans in humans are used to give doctors a detailed picture of the patient's tissues and organs. PET scans are commonly used to detect and monitor cancer progression.

CT & PET Scan Process

CT and PET scans require the animal to be completely still. Therefore, your veterinarian will complete these diagnostic imaging tests while your pet is unconscious. During the CT/PET procedure, your pet is sedated, and all vital signs are closely monitored. Usually, a CT/PET scan only takes a few minutes. Following the scan, the images are typically decoded by a specialist, and a thorough report with the findings and suggested diagnoses is sent to your pet's veterinarian.

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 is only recently that veterinary MRIs have become more widely used.

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. 

For canines and felines, the MRI process lasts 45 to 1 hour. For the MRI to function, the patient must be completely still. To ensure the success of your pet's MRI, a general anesthetic will be administered before the scan. Prior to the MRI, blood tests and X-rays are typically recommended to ensure that your pet is healthy enough to be sedated.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes. Boulder and Northside Emergency Pet Clinics does not offer CT Scans or MRIs.

If your dog or cat needs diagnostic imaging done, contact Boulder and Northside Emergency Pet Clinics. Our vets take pride in helping to restore the good health of Boulder and Westminster pets.