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Diagnostic Imaging: X-rays & CT Scans for Cats & Dogs

Diagnostic imaging can be used to help during both routine pet checkups and in more time-sensitive situations. It can provide valuable insight into the internal health and functions of your pet. Here, our Arlington vets explain what you can expect with CT scans and X-rays for cats and dogs at our veterinary diagnostic lab.

About CT Scans & X-rays for Cats & Dogs

X-ray technology can show an overall view of the dense internal workings of your pet but it will not provide a detailed view of your pet's organs, tissues, or ligaments. If a more detailed view is necessary for diagnosis then your vet will opt for other diagnostic imaging such as MRI and Ultrasound which will be much more beneficial in these cases.

X-rays are painless, non-invasive, and considered very safe for dogs and cats. X-rays, particularly digital X-rays, use only very low doses of radiation. Because the level of radiation exposure required to perform radiography is very low, even X-rays of pregnant dogs are safe.

CT scans may also be referred to as computed tomographic imaging or CAT scans for cats and dogs, work by capturing multiple individual images or "slices" throughout a region of interest in the body through the use of radiation (X-rays) and a computer. 

The image a CT scanner produces can be compared to one individual slice of bread that's part of an entire loaf. The CT machine produces two-dimensional slices of a section of your pet's anatomy and then reconfigures them to a complete image.

These slices can also be used to create three-dimensional reconstructions that can be used to help plan surgeries. Once the images are produced, your veterinarian can review and interpret them. 

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.

X-rays for Dogs & Cats

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 for Dogs & Cats

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.

What can X-rays and CT scans help diagnose?

Frequently used in both human healthcare and veterinary healthcare, these diagnostic tools are used to diagnose different conditions or illnesses depending on an animal's needs. 

CT Scans

A CT machine produces high-resolution images, which allows for a detailed evaluation of your pet's anatomy that would not be possible with standard X-rays.

CT scanners provide a clear view of the soft and bony structures in your pet's body, including the spine, nasal cavity, musculoskeletal system, thorax, and extra-thoracic structures. They can be used to evaluate: 

  • Nasal disease
  • Lung cancer 
  • The extent of canine and feline cancers
  • Ear disease
  • Pulmonary pathology 
  • Vascular abnormalities
  • Musculoskeletal and bone disorders, such as fractures or bone tumors 

CT scans can be used to help plan and facilitate surgery and minimize surgery time, which is important for pulmonary and liver tumors. 


X-rays are one of the most helpful, and frequently used tools in both human healthcare and veterinary healthcare. They can help:

  • Get a view of your pet's bones, tissues, and internal organs
  •  Diagnose issues such as broken bones, bladder stones, swallowed foreign objects, and more.
  • Spot some tumors, pregnancy, and enlarged organs
  • Provide a diagnosis for conditions such as heart disease or cancer.

We can conduct many diagnostic tests at our in-house veterinary diagnostic laboratory in Arlington to quickly and accurately identify your pet's condition.

Your veterinarian will recommend which test is best for your pet based on the structure to be examined and what he or she hopes to discover. 

What can I do to help prepare my dog or cat for their X-ray or CT scan?

Often, an X-ray and CT scan will be done at the time of concern which means that you will not need to worry about preparing your pet for the visit.

If you have an X-ray or CT scan that was booked ahead of time for your pet, your vet will provide you with all of the information needed to ensure that they get the clearest image possible.

Your vet will examine your pet and take some time to explain the CT scan or X-ray procedure if one is required. They'll also discuss what they will be looking for. 

If a diagnostic test is scheduled ahead of time for your pet at our vet lab in Arlington, you'll receive any instructions you'll need for the day of the procedure from your veterinarian

Will my dog or cat need to be sedated for their diagnostic imaging?

Some pets may require sedation to be able to get a clear image, safely. If your pet can quietly and comfortably lay on the table to the imaging appointment then your vet may proceed without sedation.

On the other hand, if your dog or cat is squirmy, edgy, or in pain, sedation will be recommended. Other reasons why sedation may be used during your pet's X-ray or scan include: if the dog's or cat's muscles need to be relaxed to get a clear image, or when the X-ray is being used on the skull, teeth, or spine.

A CT scan is a very safe procedure. Like an X-ray, CT scans use ionizing radiation, which is not harmful to pets at the low doses at which they are used.

Are CT scans and X-rays safe for dogs and cats?

CT scans and X-rays are both very safe procedures. Like an X-ray, CT scans use ionizing radiation, but at doses that are not harmful to pets.

X-rays and CTs are typically used only occasionally and generally as diagnostic tools. In some circumstances, vets will use X-ray technology to glean information about a dog's pregnancy however other forms of imaging such as ultrasound could be used in that case.

If you're concerned about the use of X-ray or CT scanner technology and your dog's or cat's health, speak to your vet. Your veterinarian will be able to give you an understanding of the risks versus the benefits in your dog's and cat's particular case so that you can decide whether you want your dog or cat to have an X-ray or CT scan.

How much do X-rays and CT scans for dogs and cats cost?

There is a range of factors that will dictate the cost of your dog's or cat's diagnostic tests, including the size of your pet, the area being examined, whether sedation was used, the type of clinic, where your veterinary clinic and diagnostic lab are located, and more. If you are concerned about the cost of your cat or dog's diagnostic tests, ask your vet for an estimate before proceeding.

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.

Do you have questions about CT scans, X-rays, or other diagnostic imaging technologies? Contact our Arlington vets today. 

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