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CT Scans & X-Rays: Diagnostic Imaging For Dogs & Cats

Diagnostic imaging can be very helpful with both monitoring your pet's ongoing health and diagnosing injuries or internal conditions. Here, our Nashua vets discuss the purpose of diagnostic imaging for pets and what we can learn from CT scans and X-rays for cats and dogs.

Routine Diagnostic Imaging for Dogs or Cats

Diagnostic imaging tools such as CT scans and X-rays for dogs and cats are used to help the vet gain valuable insight into the internal functions and state of their health.

Electromagnetic radiation and other technologies are used in routine diagnostic imaging procedures for dogs and cats. They capture extremely detailed images of your pet's bones, soft tissues, and other internal structures so your vet can offer an accurate diagnosis and plan effective treatments. 

What to Expect During Routine Diagnostic Imaging for Dogs & Cats

While both CT scans and X-rays are a type of diagnostic imaging, and both provide us with a look at your pet's internal systems, they are quite different.


With a digital X-ray (radiograph) for cats or dogs, we use very low doses of radiation to examine the inside of the body to reveal important information that might not be easily viewed from the outside.

This procedure is used to evaluate organs and bones and to diagnose conditions such as spinal cord diseases, arthritis, broken bones, bladder stones, and some tumors.

You can also rest easy knowing that X-rays are safe for dogs and cats of all ages and in all conditions. The level of radiation is so low that it can even be used on pets that are pregnant.

CT Scans

CT scans, or CAT scans, for cats and dogs, are useful when assessing the nasal passage, sinuses, lungs, thorax, ears, abdomen, and some orthopedic areas.

Your vet might recommend a CT scan if your pet has any condition ranging from lung disease to pulmonary fibrosis, metastatic cancer (before surgery), tumors or masses in the chest cavity, disease in the nasal cavity, trauma to the spine or pelvis, vascular anomalies or orthopedic developmental disease (elbow dysplasia).

When CT scans are used for diagnosing imaging, your vet can gain a more distinguished view of the bones and soft tissues. For the scan itself, your pet will be placed on a table that will slowly enter the machine and a full image will be produced. These scans can be performed quite quickly.

For these types of scans, an X-ray tube rotates around the patient to record images from several angles (the suspected health issue will determine the number of images captured) to create slices. The slices are then stacked together to produce a 3D image of your pet without superimposition of other tissues or organs.

Do pets need to be sedated for CT scans or X-rays?

When a pet is having an X-ray, whether or not they are sedated depends on their temperament, whether they can sit still, and whether the X-ray itself can be performed while your dog or cat is in a comfortable position. The vet may still recommend using anesthesia when taking images of certain parts of your pet's skeleton.

When having a CT scan, your dog or cat will need to lie still for the entire duration. Your pet's vitals will be consistently monitored while they remain under anesthesia.

If biopsies need to be done before an ultrasound, your pet will require a heavy sedative or short-acting anesthetic to help them relax while the vet performs the procedure and to avoid potential complications. Your vet will notify you if this is required.

What happens after the images have been taken?

Our veterinarians will review results from digital X-rays and ultrasounds in-house and will come up with a treatment plan suited to your pet's needs and conditions. 

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.

Would you like to learn more about how we use diagnostic imaging in pet care and what to expect during your visit? Contact Animal Hospital of Nashua today. We can answer any questions you may have.

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