What Is Veterinary Diagnostic Imaging?
Veterinary diagnostic imaging includes radiographs (x-rays), ultrasound, MRIs and CT scans, 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 your pet must be kept still to allow for adequate images to be produced. Veterinarians use these images to collect information on your cat to help them to make a medical and sometimes surgical plan.
When Is Veterinary Diagnostic Imaging Necessary For Your Pet?
After your veterinarian has examined your pet, 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 pet 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 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 pet.
The four types of Veterinary Diagnostic Imaging our veterinarians may utilize to assist in diagnosis of your pet's condition are:
- CT Scans
MRIs are also used to help diagnose an illness. We do not offer MRI diagnosis services. We recommend UGA's College of Veterinary Medicine for that service.
More information on each of these types of radiographs is provided below.
X-rays have been in use throughout the medical community for many decades. X-rays are by far the most regularly used form of diagnostic imaging in the veterinary industry because they are cost effective (comparatively speaking), and they can accurately diagnose the state of skeletal structure and composition, large body cavities, and the presence of many foreign objects. X-rays are totally painless, but some pets can benefit from sedation to reduce anxiety and stress.
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
- Because x-rays are static images, the procedure usually requires less time than a procedure like an MRI
X-rays have traditionally been captured on actual film, and still can be when necessary. However, our x-ray images are now digital which allows us to capture the images on a secure server that our veterinarians can access at any time, and can also share with specialists, if necessary.
An ultrasound is the second most common type of diagnostic imaging tool veterinarians use to diagnose a pet's medical condition. Ultrasounds use soundwaves to examine and photograph internal tissues in real time. An ultrasound allows a veterinarian to see into the body, allowing for easy viewing of organs from different angles that are not easily achieved through x-rays. The functioning of various organs can be observed to determine if they are malfunctioning.
A cat ultrasound procedure usually proceeds as follows:
- An ultrasound technician gently presses a small probe against the cat's body that emits digital sound waves
- The sound waves are directed to various parts of the cat's abdominal area by manually shifting the probe's position
- The sound beam changes velocity while passing through varying body tissue density, which causes echoes
- Our ultrasound equipment converts these echoes into electrical impulses that are then further transformed into a digital image that represents the appearance of the tissues
- These images can be viewed in real time by a veterinarian, as well as stored for further review at any time
In modern scanning systems like the ones Georgia Veterinary Associates has on-site and uses on our patients, the sound beam sweeps through the body many times per second. This produces a dynamic, real-time image that changes as the cat ultrasound device moves across a cat's body. We can use the results of an ultrasound to determine what is ailing your cat, and to devise the most effective treatment protocol.
Common symptoms that may cause a veterinary to use ultrasound include: vomiting, weight loss, kidney impairment or blockage and heart disease.
Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is the newest form of diagnostic imaging being used for both human and veterinary medicine. Cat MRI equipment generates a very powerful magnetic field, resulting in detailed anatomic images of whatever part of a cat's body is being scanned. No x-rays are involved, and a cat MRI is considered extremely safe.
A cat MRI procedure usually proceeds as follows:
The body is continuously pulsed with radio waves for a period of time, usually 10-20 minutes
- Pets must be sedated for this procedure because they cannot be restrained by humans and must remain still during the procedure
- For the procedure, a cat is placed in a tubular electromagnetic chamber
- The pulsing causes the cat's body tissues to emit radio frequency waves that can be detected by the MRI equipment. Many repetitions of these pulses and subsequent emissions are required in order to generate adequate digital feedback for the equipment to interpret.
- The feedback is then converted into images that can be displayed on a screen, and can also be saved for future study
A cat MRI is not used as regularly as an x-ray or ultrasound because the equipment is very expensive, very large, and requires specially trained technicians to operate. However, Georgia Veterinary Associates offers comprehensive cat MRI services because we believe that facilitating complete feline care means having all the tools and training necessary to do so.
How Radiographs Influence Veterinary Recommendations
The goal of animal radiographs is to ascertain a diagnosis, or obtain a final answer without having to perform further, more invasive tests or procedures. For example, an x-ray might show evidence of a tumor of the spine and possibly involve the surrounding muscle. The addition of an CT scan would reveal the specific tumor and the extent that the tumor extends into the surrounding muscle tissue. This type of information is very important for a prognosis and treatment plan.
Veterinary diagnostic imaging offers an array of incredibly useful tools within a veterinarian's toolkit. Sometimes a diagnostic imaging session can lead to the need for further diagnostics.
If you are concerned that your pet might be injured or experiencing internal problems, or to discuss how animal radiographs can benefit him or her, please contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our veterinarians today.
As technology leads us into the future and improves our lives, diagnostic imaging is no exception. Digital radiology gives our practice the ability to diagnose conditions almost on the spot. This allows us to treat conditions faster and more effectively.
In the old days, a technician spent a considerable amount of time carefully positioning the x-ray machine and the pet to get just the right view of the area to be diagnosed. The x-ray films were then processed through a lab and sent back to our practice for viewing. A light box was necessary to view the films and we had only the naked eye to examine them. If perhaps the image was poor or blurry, we retook the x-rays and the whole process began again.
With today’s most current digital radiography, our practice takes the x-ray image on advanced machinery which sends it directly to digital x-ray sensors for storage and display on a computer. There is no lag time and no waiting for films to process at a separate lab. This means if the exposure is poor or if Fluffy moved a little bit, we can see the flaws immediately and retake the x-ray right then and there. We can also share the image digitally instead of sending large films out through the mail.
Like most digital images, our practice can easily enhance the digital x-ray image on the computer. We can zoom in, or change the contrast and brightness for better viewing. Plus a digital x-ray technology creates a much clearer and detailed image than traditional x-rays. In identifying and analyzing changes of an ongoing condition that requires a series of images, our practice can utilize computer programs to assist us.
Our practice uses digital radiology both for dental purposes and for your pet’s whole body. Dental digital radiology allows our practice to view the internal anatomy of the teeth including the roots and surrounding bone. In the rest of your pet’s body, digital x-rays can help us identify a fractured bone, or degeneration in a joint as well as sometimes identify foreign objects inside your pet’s body. An added bonus to digital radiology is the fact that it emits less radiation than traditional radiology.