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Diagnostic Imaging: X-Rays vs. CT Scans vs. MRIs

Diagnostic imaging is an exceptional tool used by our Stuart vets to help us pinpoint the cause, extent, or seriousness of your pet's illness or injury. Depending on your pet's condition, the type of diagnostic imaging used will vary. Below are a few of the tests that your vet may recommend to help diagnose or treat your dog or cat.

Radiography - X-Rays for Dogs & Cats

X-rays are one of the most useful and widely used tools in veterinary medicine. X-rays can provide your veterinarian with an image of your pet's bones, tissues, and internal organs, allowing them to diagnose issues such as broken bones, bladder stones, swallowing foreign objects, and more. X-ray images can assist veterinarians in detecting tumors, pregnancy, and enlarged organs, which may lead to a diagnosis of heart disease or cancer.

The organs, tissues, or ligaments of your pet cannot be seen in detail by an X-ray due to limitations in the technology. Other types of diagnostic imaging, like MRI and ultrasound, are more helpful in these circumstances.

X-rays are non-invasive, painless, and considered very safe for dogs and cats. X-rays, especially digital X-rays, use extremely low doses of radiation. Because the amount of radiation required for radiography is so low, even X-rays of pregnant dogs are safe. Sedation is sometimes necessary to obtain a clear image of your body. Sedation will not be required if your dog or cat is calm, not in too much pain, and able to lie in a comfortable position while the X-ray is being taken. Sedation may be necessary if your pet is unsettled, anxious, or in pain.

Computed Tomography - CT Scans for Dogs & Cats

The CT machine's high-resolution images allow your veterinary team to evaluate your pet's anatomy in great detail, which would be impossible with standard X-rays.

CT scanners give your veterinarian a clear image of your dog's or cat's bony and soft tissue structures. The spine, nasal cavity, inner ear, bones/joints, and chest/lungs are the most common structures imaged using CT technology. The CT scanner can also be used to inspect lymph nodes, the thyroid gland, abdominal organs, the skull/brain, and vascular structures.

Positron Emission Tomography - PET Scans for Dogs & Cats

A CT scan combined with an intravenous (IV) contrast agent allows veterinarians to see increased areas of blood flow in your pet's body. PET scans help detect cancer and inflammation. PET scans in humans are used to provide doctors with a detailed picture of how the patient's tissues and organs are functioning. PET scans are most commonly used to detect and track the progression of cancer.

CT & PET Scan Process

The animal must remain perfectly still for CT and PET scans. Therefore, while your pet is under anesthesia, your veterinarian will complete these diagnostic imaging tests. Your pet is sedated during the CT/PET procedure, and all vital signs are closely watched. A CT/PET scan typically only takes a few minutes. After the scan is complete, the images are typically interpreted by a specialist, and your pet's doctor is sent a thorough report with the results and recommended diagnoses.

MRI - Veterinary Magnetic Resonance Imaging for Dogs & Cats

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has been available to diagnose human health issues since the early 1980s, but veterinary MRIs have only recently gained popularity.

MRI scans can provide your veterinarian with high-resolution, detailed images of your pet's soft tissues, such as the brain, spinal cord, ligaments, tendons, and abdominal organs. For many soft tissue injuries or diseases, veterinary MRIs can provide a more detailed image of your pet's body than other diagnostic imaging tools like X-rays or CT Scans.

If your dog or cat is exhibiting symptoms such as limping, lameness, seizures, joint pain, neck pain, back pain, or paralysis, an MRI might be recommended to help diagnose the cause of your pet's symptoms. 

The MRI process takes 45 to 1 hour for dogs and cats. The patient needs to be completely still for the MRI to work. A general anesthetic will be given prior to the scan in order to ensure the success of your pet's MRI. To make sure that your pet is healthy enough to be sedated, blood tests and X-rays are typically advised prior to the MRI.

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.

If your dog or cat needs diagnostic imaging done, contact Animal Care Extraordinaire. Our vets take pride in helping to restore the good health of Stuart pets.

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