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Diagnosing Pets: Which Is Better, X-Ray or Ultrasound?

February 9th, 2021 by Cherished Companions

Diagnosing your pet’s condition may require the use of one of these tools—or both

Over the years, our Castle Rock veterinarians have diagnosed thousands of dogs and cats. As veterinary care has advanced, so has the technology used to help animal doctors get a faster and better picture of how to help your pet.

Two of the best tools for diagnosing sick and injured pets and people are X-ray (also known as “radiographs”) and ultrasound. Our Castle Rock veterinarians break down the difference between the two this way:

  • X-rays use electromagnetic radiation to showcase imaging of the pet’s body structure and highlight objects within.
  • Ultrasound uses sound waves to produce images of your pet’s interior systems. The sound waves bounce back and forth to create the imagery.

Ultrasound and X-ray are valuable options for diagnosing illness and injury in both dogs and cats.

What pet health issues can be best seen and diagnosed with ultrasound? 

“Soft tissue” issues in pets, such as those involving the gastrointestinal, heart, and nervous systems, are usually identified with ultrasound, as it essentially shows the vet three-dimensional images of these areas. However, ultrasound doesn’t work well when it comes to respiratory problems in the chest and thorax because the air blocks the soundwaves.

Aside from fractures, what types of conditions can be best seen and diagnosed with X-rays?

X-ray is indeed used frequently for fractures in pets, but it can also reveal lung abnormalities,

congestive heart failure, and foreign bodies in the GI tract—if those foreign bodies are made of hard plastic or metal. That plastic chew toy or spare change your fur friend gobbled up will block radiation, so it will show up clearly on an X-ray.

What would be the reasons for choosing one tool over another? Are there times when both are necessary for a diagnosis? 

There are several things that determine which diagnostic tool the vet will use for your pet. Your pet’s symptoms, health, and behavior as well as our veterinarian’s initial observations are all factors.  

For health issues that aren’t easily visible injuries, your Castle Rock veterinarian would look for signs pointing to your pet having a foreign body issue, an enlarged heart, heart disease or another problem.

In many cases, there is good reason to use both X-ray and ultrasound to diagnose or to narrow down your pet’s health issue. For example, if it appears to the vet that the pet ingested a foreign object, then an X-ray would likely be done first. But should that veterinary X-ray show an enlarged spleen, then an ultrasound would be used to get a better image of the spleen since it is soft tissue.

Does my pet need to be sedated for ultrasounds and X-rays?

Usually not. Most animals will relax once they are put in the position and realize that that the vet tech and doctor are there to help and not to hurt. We’re experts at making your pet feel comfortable!

That said, there are some exceptions. Very young and active animals or those who are unusually nervous may need a sedative to stay calm. It really just depends on the personality of the pet. Another occasion when sedation might be necessary is when doing hip X-rays, which can be more difficult for pets.

Keep in mind that at Cherished Companions, we have a Comfort First Pledge, so you can rest easy knowing we’ll do everything we can to see that your pet stays as pain- and anxiety-free as possible while in our care.

We’ll also make sure that you’re comfortable, too: our warm, friendly staff is here to answer any questions you may have about your pet’s health and to make getting veterinary services at Cherished Companions a relaxed experience. We even have a play area to keep your kids occupied while you wait!

What does it mean when you say our Castle Rock veterinarian uses “digital” ultrasound and radiography for your pet’s diagnosis?

Back in the day, veterinary X-ray films had to be developed like regular photography film. Today most medical imaging is digital and computerized. The benefits of digital X-rays and ultrasounds include:

  • Faster viewing. Basically, the X-ray or ultrasound machine is hooked up to a computer so it can be viewed within seconds. This makes for a quicker diagnosis for your pet, which means treatment can start that much sooner.  
  • Less stress. In the past if an image wasn’t clear or was inconclusive, there would be long waits or even rescheduling for retakes. With digital, retakes can be done on the same day making it easier on pets, families, and the veterinary staff.
  • Easy sharing. When doctors need a specialist to take a look, digital images can simply be emailed.

There are also environmental benefits, given that no physical materials or chemicals are necessary to see and develop the images!

Do veterinarians and veterinary technicians need special training to read ultrasounds and X-rays?

Veterinary technicians don’t usually read X-rays or ultrasounds, and instead are there to assist the doctor by positioning and calming the pet.

Reading veterinary X-rays does require some training, but it’s something that most veterinarians should be comfortable doing. To read ultrasounds, however, doctors do need some special additional education. At Cherished Companions, our Castle Rock veterinarian is a graduate of a two-year veterinary ultrasound certification course, so you know your pet is getting the best medical expertise available!

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Help your cat feel better

If your cat is in pain while eating and you live near Castle Rock, Colorado, reach out to our cat veterinarians at 303-688-3757 or:

Book your visit here 

Cherished Companions Animal Clinic specializes in the care of cats and dogs. Our goal is to help your pet have as many happy, healthy years with you as possible—and to make your experience at our clinic comfortable and as stress-free as possible.

This article is intended to provide general guidance on issues that may cause a cat to have a poor coat. If you live in or around the Castle Rock area and have specific questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us at 303-688-3757.

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