How is diagnostic imaging used for dogs?

Diagnostic imaging is a non-invasive way to diagnose diseases in dogs. It is an essential tool in veterinary medicine, allowing veterinarians to see inside dogs and cats without surgery or other invasive procedures. There are various imaging modalities, such as CAT scans, CTs, MRIs, ultrasounds, and others.

Dr. Ren Garcia
Green Dog Veterinary Center

What are the different types of diagnostic imaging available in-house?

Some of the diagnostic imaging modalities available in-house include ultrasound, X-ray, and CT scans. Ultrasound is used for diseases of the abdomen, chest, and sometimes muscles and ligaments. X-ray is suitable for bones, heart, abdomen, and cancer diagnosis. CT scans provide a three-dimensional image from thousands of images, which is valuable for diagnosing diseases with more precision, such as specific cancers and nodules in the lungs.

Why do pets need diagnostic imaging, and what would a veterinarian look for?

Diagnostic imaging is essential because it allows veterinarians to look inside a pet non-invasively. They can search for heart disease, lung disease, liver, kidney, spleen issues, and other conditions. Imaging helps diagnose these problems without resorting to surgery or other invasive techniques.

Do dogs need to be sedated or have anesthesia for diagnostic imaging?

It depends on the procedure. Dogs typically don't need sedation for X-rays or ultrasounds. However, for CT scans, dogs need to be sedated or put under anesthesia because they must remain still during the procedure. Sedation might also be necessary for painful procedures, such as X-rays of an injured limb, so the patient doesn’t feel the pain when the doctor is manoeuvring them around to get accurate images.

Is diagnostic imaging safe for dogs?

Diagnostic imaging is entirely safe for dogs, as it allows veterinarians to gather essential information without causing pain or resorting to surgery.

Which diagnostic imaging tool is most accurate?

All diagnostic imaging tools are accurate in different ways. X-ray is suitable for bone imaging, ultrasound for the abdomen, and CT scans for spines and backs. The specific situation determines which tool is most appropriate, and sometimes multiple methods may be employed, as one type of imaging may provide certain information that can be substantiated by another type.

What are the factors that help you decide which type of diagnostic imaging to use?

We usually start with the simplest procedure first. X-rays and ultrasounds are good procedures to start with. For instance, if a patient’s physical exam indicates they have a painful bone, I would perform an X-ray. If a patient has been vomiting or having diarrhea frequently, an ultrasound is the best course of action. Ultrasounds do require a measure of experience and training. At our practice, Dr. Geist is a specialist who has been trained in doing abdominal ultrasounds. I spent 18 months in an imaging facility strictly working with ultrasounds, so I have adequate experience. Green Dog Dental has many different doctors that are specially trained to perform and study diagnostic images.

Will I get my pet’s results the same day?

It depends on the study. With ultrasounds, you do because the person performing it will tell you what they see in real time. With X-rays, it depends because our findings must be backed up by another opinion, such as that of a board-certified veterinary radiologist, which is often because the veterinarian may not have experience with your dog’s particular issue or they just need to confirm their findings. We will upload the images onto a server, and a board-certified radiologist will read the images and send back a report. This process gives us secondary expertise, as veterinarians have many other duties beyond reading diagnostic images.

Is there any recovery necessary after diagnostic imaging?

The only recovery needed after diagnostic imaging is if the dog was sedated. In that case, the dog will need to recover from the medication's effects. The imaging procedure itself, being non-invasive, does not require any recovery time.

Does diagnostic imaging cause pain for dogs?

No, there is no pain associated with diagnostic imaging devices. The only pain a dog may experience is from the injury or ailment that required the imaging study in the first place.

How should I prepare my dog for a diagnostic imaging session?

Before a diagnostic imaging session, ensure your dog is fasted on the morning of the appointment. Fasting helps prevent any food in the stomach or intestines from blocking the view during the imaging procedure. Additionally, fasting is essential if the dog needs to be sedated for the session.

What happens if there's no diagnosis after diagnostic imaging of my pet?

If the imaging results are inconclusive, the veterinarian may send the images to a board-certified veterinary radiologist for a second opinion. Depending on the radiologist's feedback, the next steps may include another imaging study or a different procedure not related to imaging.

What happens to my dog during an X-ray?

The patient is typically placed on their side or back to have the X-ray taken. These digital X-rays are then uploaded onto a server so we can visualize the images on advanced software.

What are baseline diagnostic images, and why are they important for my pet?

As dogs age, we don’t only want to perform diagnostic imaging when they are sick. We also want to collect images when they’re healthy too, so we can detect any potential issues early before they start exhibiting symptoms. We recommend dogs that are over the age of six or dogs with a medical history of illness have baseline diagnostic imaging done annually as a measure of preventive care. As diagnostic imaging is non-invasive, it is a great way of detecting issues before they become a problem so they can live longer.

When should I start bringing my pet in for diagnostic imaging?

Diagnostic imaging is typically recommended if any abnormalities are found during a physical exam or blood work. Imaging studies are also performed for preventative purposes. As dogs age, it’s a good idea to start doing preventative blood work and imaging so patients don’t only come in when they’re sick, but also when they’re healthy so we can catch things before they progress.

Will my pet need a lab test prior to diagnostic imaging?

Not necessarily. Abnormal lab tests are usually what causes us to order an imaging study, whether that is ultrasound, CT, or X-ray.

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