X-Rays for Dogs

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 Boulder and Westminster 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 type of electromagnetic radiation that photons carry in waves. Dogs' bodies contain hard materials like teeth and bones, as well as mineralized tissues, which absorb energy from x-ray beams. Air does not absorb any x-rays, but soft tissues like the liver and kidneys do absorb some of them. Lead absorbs all x-rays completely. 

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.

To assess the bones in the spine and limbs, veterinarians also frequently use x-rays. However, because of the density of soft tissues in ligaments and tendons, joints might be harder to observe. In the event that your veterinarian takes x-rays of these regions, they will probably be checking for cavities, unusual bone orientation, or unusual swelling in a joint.

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?

When you bring your pet in, your veterinarian will often take an x-ray so they can examine the problem more closely. You don't have to prepare in advance because of this. They will, however, need a few minutes to go over the steps and the things they are searching 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.

In contrast, the vet will advise sedation if your dog exhibits nervous behavior, wriggles, or shows signs of pain. If the dog's muscles need to be relaxed in order to get the clearest image possible, or if the x-ray needs to take pictures of the spine, skull, or teeth, sedation may also be necessary.

Are x-rays safe for dogs?

Although x-rays are generally thought to be safe for dogs, they are usually only used infrequently and primarily as a diagnostic tool due to the radiation involved. Veterinarians occasionally utilize x-ray technology to learn more about a dog's pregnancy. However, in that situation, alternative imaging modalities like ultrasound might be employed.

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?

The size of your dog, the area being x-rayed, whether sedation was used, the type of clinic, the location of your veterinary clinic, and other factors will all affect how much your dog's x-rays will cost. Before moving forward, get an estimate from your veterinarian if you are worried about the cost of your dog's x-rays.

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.

At Boulder and Northside Emergency Pet Clinics, our vets use state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging tools to diagnose and treat numerous conditions in dogs and cats. If your pet needs urgent care, visit our 24/7 emergency veterinary clinic right away.