dog ultrasounds and x-rays

Dog Diagnostic Imaging

The Role of Imaging in Diagnosing Your Dog's Ailments

Dog diagnostic imaging provides a clear picture of what’s going on inside your dog’s body when they’re experiencing symptoms that aren’t normal. Whether it’s an x-ray, CT scan, or MRI, these diagnostic tools are critical to your veterinarian being able to provide a definitive diagnosis. If your dog needs any of these tests conducted, you may have turned to the internet to make sure it’s necessary and safe for your dog. At GeniusVets, we believe that pet care information should come from veterinarians and not from online resources, especially with a topic as critical as dog diagnostic imaging. That’s why we’ve taken dog diagnostic imaging FAQs, sent these questions to renowned veterinarians across the U.S, and compiled their replies to get you useful information that you can trust.

While we've sourced all of the dog diagnostic imaging information and recommendations below directly from leading veterinarians across the country, please make sure to seek out the advice of your own veterinarian or find a trusted vet near you using the GeniusVets Directory.

How does diagnostic imaging help diagnose my pet?

Diagnostic imaging (x-rays or ultrasound) helps your veterinarian get a clear picture of what's going on inside your pet to determine a diagnosis. They’ll look for things that might be out of place, shouldn't be there, or diseases that can be visibly seen inside your pet. Imaging allows veterinarians to safely look inside without needing to be more invasive. For example, a limping dog may have a fracture but you need diagnostic imaging to know for sure. If you feel a lump in their belly, either x-rays or ultrasound will tell whether that lump is malignant or benign.

What are the different types of diagnostic imaging?

The main diagnostic imaging used at most veterinary facilities is radiographs, an x-ray or ultrasound that uses ultrasound waves to look at the inside of the dog's organs. Specialty hospitals often have different types of diagnostic imaging, such as a CT scan or an MRI, that a specialist or a veterinary radiologist would use. The veterinarian will choose the diagnostic imaging based on what they are trying to diagnose.

The various diagnostic imaging tools are used for different health issues in dogs, including the following:

  • X-rays are great for looking at bones
  • Ultrasound is good for looking at soft tissue
  • MRI and CT scans will look at soft tissue that is perhaps encased in bone, such as ligaments, joints, or tumors

What does a veterinary radiologist do?

A veterinary radiologist receives extra schooling after veterinary school to become certified and specialized in all diagnostic imaging forms, as well as interpreting the images for a definitive diagnosis. A veterinary radiologist is someone your veterinarian would refer you to see at a specialty hospital. Your veterinarian would also use a veterinary radiologist if they were seeking a second opinion, such as if something doesn't make sense to them.

What are some of the things that diagnostic imaging looks for?

If your veterinarian is looking at an x-ray of your dog’s chest, for example, they're looking at the heart and lungs for abnormalities that might explain their symptoms. If they're looking at an x-ray of the belly, they might be looking at their different organs for signs of tumors or looking at their intestines to see if they've eaten something. With diagnostic imaging, your veterinarian is seeking more information about why you’re seeing certain symptoms in your dog.

Ultrasound is a bit more specific for looking inside the organs, where your veterinarian can easily see masses that might be hiding, evaluate the gallbladder, and look at the kidneys, bladder, and adrenal glands which are so small they can't be seen on an x-ray. Ultrasound is a lot more sensitive and more specific for different diseases that may not be seen with an x-ray.

Is diagnostic imaging safe for my dog?

Diagnostic imaging is safe for your dog. Veterinarians do x-rays so infrequently on a dog that the amount of radiation they're exposed to is minimal and therefore very safe. It may be a little stressful for your pet, but it’s over quickly and often before they even realize anything is happening. Ultrasound imaging is also very safe, and is the same technology used for imaging babies in the womb. It is an excellent way to get more information about your pet without doing something invasive and painful to them.

Would my dog need to be sedated for diagnostic imaging?

Most of the time your dog will not need to be sedated for an x-ray, although there are some scenarios where it might be helpful such as when a specific view is needed that might be uncomfortable. For example, when your veterinarian needs x-rays to look for hip dysplasia, that requires manipulating their limbs and works best under anesthesia. The majority of animals are excellent and don't need any sedation for x-ray, although it depends entirely on the temperament of the dog. For more advanced imaging such as a CT scan or MRI, that is a large machine that requires your dog to sit perfectly still for a long period of time, and that won't happen if your dog is awake.

The Pet Health Network provides a detailed explanation of each type of diagnostic imaging for more insight. If you have further questions about diagnostic imaging, reach out to your veterinarian. If you don't have one yet, we can help you find a local veterinarian!