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Canine and Feline Diagnostic Imaging Ultrasound, X-Rays, Radiology

What Is Veterinary Diagnostic Imaging?

Veterinary diagnostic imaging includes radiographs (x-rays), ultrasound, all of which are used as diagnostic tools to collect information on your pet's health. The vast majority of imaging is non-invasive and completely painless. However, some imaging may require sedation or even anesthesia because the pets must be kept still to allow for adequate images to be produced. Veterinarians use these images to collect information on your pet to help them to make a medical and sometimes surgical plan.

When Is Veterinary Diagnostic Imaging Necessary For Your Cat/Dog?

After your veterinarian has examined your cat/dog, he or she may want to begin to collect more information that will lead to a diagnosis and then, a treatment plan. X-rays are usually a first line of imaging. The x-ray may lead to a diagnosis which allows them to move forward with a plan. However, sometimes the next step may be ultrasound to get a more thorough or specific look at a particular area of the body.

For instance, if your cat/dog is vomiting and feeling ill, your veterinarian may take an xray to look for possible causes such as obstruction of intestines or an obvious foreign body. The x-ray may show some signs of an intestinal obstruction, however, before proceeding to surgery, it would be prudent in some cases to follow with an abdominal ultrasound. The ultrasound will give more detail of the questionable area and therefore allow more confidence of the treatment plan to move forward with surgery. Occasionally, x-rays and ultrasound allow for a definitive diagnosis but other times they will simply add more information to help put the puzzle together for the best treatment plan for your cat/dog.

The two types of Veterinary Diagnostic Imaging our veterinarians may utilize to assist in diagnosis of your cat’s/dog's condition are:

  • X-Rays

  • Ultrasounds

More information on each of these types of radiographs is provided below.

Veterinary Digital X-ray System

Digital radiography (DR) is an advanced form of x-ray inspection which produces a digital radiographic image instantly on a computer. ... Compared to other imaging devices, flat panel detectors, also known as digital detector arrays (DDAs) provide high quality digital images.

x-rays usually proceed as follows:

  • The pet is placed on the x-ray table

  • A technician positions the x-ray machine so that the x-ray beam targets only the area of interest

  • Modern x-ray equipment allow for low levels of radiation and when used only occasionally are perfectly safe for your pet​.

Portable veterinary Doppler ultrasound system

Doppler ultrasonography is used to quantify the direction and velocity of a moving subject. In veterinary medicine this is most commonly applied to blood flow.

Using the Doppler effect can provide additional information when performing abdominal ultrasound or echocardiography. As the ultrasonographic appearance of fluid or blood is anechoic or ‘black’, it is difficult to visualise any movement using B-Mode ultrasound. With the use of Doppler, you can effectively visualise blood flow and determine both the direction and velocity.

B-Mode is a two-dimensional ultrasound image display composed of bright dots representing the ultrasound echoes. The brightness of each dot is determined by the amplitude of the returned echo signal. This allows for visualization and quantification of anatomical structures, as well as for the visualization of diagnostic and therapeutic procedures for small animal studies. 

This universal imaging mode is great for:


  • Image-guided injections for needle placement of an injection or aspiration procedure.

  • Identification of lesions, cysts or tumors.

  • Locating structural anomalies.

  • Visualizing cardiac and vascular movement across the cardiac cycle.

Doppler ultrasonography is most commonly used in echocardiographic examinations. 

In abdominal ultrasonography, Doppler can be used to document the presence, absence and/or pattern of blood flow to abdominal organs and areas of pathology. This can be useful to avoid damaging local vascular structures when performing tissue sampling via a fine needle aspirate (FNA) or ultrasound guided biopsy. The velocity of blood flow can also provide information regarding pressure changes in organs such as the kidneys or in cases where abnormalities of vascular flow are suspected such as portosystemic shunts.

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