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Dog Diagnostic Imaging - Diagnostic Imaging And The Health Of My Dog

How is diagnostic imaging used in diagnosing my dog?

So if your pet comes in, and of course, whatever the problem is, we will do a complete and thorough physical exam, but there may be things that we can't see on the inside of your pet. And that's where the diagnostic imaging would come in, which we're going to talk about.

Dr. Nichola Gaither
Animal Hospital of Statesville

What does a veterinary radiologist do?

A veterinary radiologist is a specialist who will read the images produced by the diagnostic imaging, whether that is x-rays, ultrasound, or MRI. We'll talk a little more about those things, but their job is to interpret those images. As general practice veterinarians, we would seek them in situations where we may not be a hundred percent sure about our diagnosis. So we have the option of sending those images out to be read by the radiologist.

What are the different types of diagnostic imaging?

The ones we offer here at the Animal Hospital of Stateville are, of course, x-rays or radiographs. Most people just call that x-rays, which is an x-ray beam used to detect problems inside the animal. We would often think about broken bones, fractures, and limping, but they may also be used for the abdomen. If there's vomiting or concern that maybe a pet has eaten something, x-rays will come into play. We also do ultrasounds. We do an ultrasound of the abdomen and an ultrasound of the heart, which is commonly called an echocardiogram. So we offer both of those, which uses soundwave and images to look at organs, and either how they are moving or functioning.

We also look to see if there is something abnormal in the abdomen or the chest, like a mass or a tumor. Those are the ones that we use. We may also refer a patient to a specialist, and the specialty hospitals are where CTS or MRIs are located. Those will be used more if it is something to do with the spine. We won't be able to see an inner vertebral disc disease or a pinched nerve on an x-ray. That would be more suited for MRIs, which are used more for soft tissue, or CT might be used for specific areas of the body, like the head or the limb.

And then, what I have much less experience with, is nuclear medicine imaging, also referred to as a bone scan or scintigraphy. I believe that's more commonly used in large animal medicine and horses. And that's basically where a dye is given, and an IV injection produces a resonating image. It highlights the area of concern, which will be either an injury or a problem.

Is it similar to when we use barium, and we can see where that travels? I know it's not the same thing, but you can see that and see where it goes.

What are some of the things that the veterinarian will look for with diagnostic imaging? You kind of went over that when you went through the different kinds.

Yeah. For an echocardiogram, we're going to be looking at the heart's function. We can, with an ultrasound, look at the inner parts of the heart. So the valve, the way it's squeezing, and how well the valve is opening or closing. We can look at the stomach contents in the abdomen, whereas x-rays describe it as a big picture. So you're getting the big picture. It's also a two-dimensional image, whereas, with the ultrasound, we're able to see things move and see them in motion and not just a still image like a movie versus a picture.

Does my dog need to be sedated for diagnostic imaging?

I would say that with the majority of the imaging we do here, our patients are not sedated, but there are certain times when it's either needed or required. It may be needed if your pet is hurt or not able to be placed in certain positions that we would need to get the correct images. Additionally, it may be required for certain images, like certification for the OFA, if they're getting certified for their hips, the Orthopedic Foundation of America, or the PennHip. That does require sedation to have those images done.

Also, we sedate a dog if it is just not conducive to being manipulated, like if they're a little bit aggressive, nervous, or anxious sometimes. And part of our fear-free would be that we might give them a mild sedative to facilitate that image to cause less stress, which causes less detriment to the body in general and gives a much better picture.

Is diagnostic imaging safe for my dog?

I would say yes. Regarding the amount of radiation they would get through an x-ray or any concerns, as far as the safety of the actual image itself goes, it's very safe. The safety regarding the restraint, again, we try to facilitate that as fear-free as possible.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 802-1280, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

Dog Diagnostic Imaging - FAQs

Dr. Nichola Gaither
Animal Hospital of Statesville

Is there anything I should do to prepare my dog for a diagnostic imaging session?

We might ask you to fast your pet. That way, if we are x-raying or doing an ultrasound, we don't have a lot of food in the stomach that might obscure an image. Or we may need them fasted if we're going to give them any type of mild sedative or general anesthesia.

Does my veterinarian handle the dog diagnostic imaging session, or will a specialist do that?

Yes, is the answer; both. Most of the time, the images and the diagnostic imaging that we do here, my colleagues and me will interpret and diagnose based on those images. But we do have the option of sending those images to a veterinary radiologist and getting their opinion or diagnosis if we feel that that's necessary.

Does my dog get anesthesia for a diagnostic imaging session?

Not always, but there may be certain situations like we mentioned with the certifications of PennHip or OFA, those are required to have anesthesia. Also, if we need to have the pet calmer or more cooperative for the positions they need to be in, some of those positions aren't necessarily natural to them. It's often on a cold table that they may not feel comfortable with. But yes and no is the answer.

What happens to my dog during an x-ray?

For x-rays, most of our patients are fairly cooperative in what we're asking them to do. If they're not sedated, the two most common positions are lying on the side view and lying on the back view. So they lay on a table, and we take a picture of them.

We may try to help them be calmer by petting them and talking calmly to them. It's a darker room, so there's less stimulus. Then, if we need to give them anything to calm them, we'll do that as well. We have to use some gentle restraint to keep them still, but most of them are very cooperative. Some of them are not, and that's when the sedation comes in.

Something we take for granted, which you may not know, is that we are in the x-ray room with them. If they are sedated, we may position them and step out of the x-ray room. But our x-ray is set up in a way that our technicians or assistants are with your pet, so they're not left alone. A lot of times, when we go have x-rays, the technician will step out of the room, and we're totally by ourselves, but we can't tell a pet to just stay in a strange area in a strange position. So we're in there with them, they're not left alone, and we're helping them get the best image needed for the veterinarian.

The calmer they are, the faster we can work and get that image for you.

Will my dog experience pain during a diagnostic imaging session?

That's a great question. The diagnostic imaging itself doesn't cause pain, but the positions they need to be in to get the best image might. For instance, if your pet comes in and it's limping or has a hurt paw, and we have to stretch that paw out to get an x-ray, that could be uncomfortable for them. An ultrasound is non-invasive, but they may have to be still for long enough to get the ultrasound and see the images. That's simply a probe on the touch of the skin. So it's not necessarily a painful procedure, but because of what they're getting imaged for, they might be in some pain.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 802-1280, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

Dog Diagnostic Imaging - FAQs 2

Dr. Nichola Gaither
Animal Hospital of Statesville

How does a veterinarian decide which dog diagnostic imaging tool to use?

Often, it depends on what we're looking for and what's going on with the pet. For instance, if it is limping on a leg, we would choose an x-ray over an ultrasound. If it has an upset stomach or is vomiting, we may want an ultrasound, which will show a little more detail in the abdomen than the big picture of an x-ray would. So it depends on what you need to find out, which kind of ties into the next question.

Which diagnostic imaging tool is the most accurate?

I would say the most accurate tool depends on the best position we can get on a pet. So there may be a reason we take an x-ray because maybe the pet wouldn't do well with an ultrasound. Some of that depends on the type of sickness or injury, and some of that depends on the patient and what the pet allows us to do.

Will more than one diagnostic imaging tool be used to come up with a diagnosis for my dog?

It's possible that it might. I would say, a lot of the time, the one we choose first, which we feel is the best, will probably give us the most answers. There are situations where it doesn't like if we see something on an x-ray, which I kind of describe as a big picture, our ultrasound kind of zeros in on that. If we see something that looks like a mass or a tumor in the abdomen, we might want to know what it is attached to and what the likely cause is.

So after a big picture x-ray, an ultrasound can go in and look at the individual organs, like the kidney or the spleen. We want to see where the suspicious mass is and what it's attached to. We may not see other things, like fluid, which are more sensitive on ultrasound than on an x-ray.

So you try to prioritize and start with what might give you your answer, and then it may lead you to further diagnostics. But you start with the one you feel might give you the highest yield.

What is the procedure like for each dog diagnostic imaging tool?

The different imaging tools listed out would be x-ray, ultrasound, ultrasound of heart versus the abdomen, and then procedures that we would refer for, such as CT, MRI, or scintigraphy. The actual procedure that the pet would go through for an x-ray would be positional. For the most part, that's on an exam table, on a tabletop. The ultrasound would require your pet to either lie or stand for that procedure. For the advanced imaging, they would require sedation or general anesthesia.

When is an x-ray used versus an MRI, ultrasound, or CT scan?

The x-ray frequently comes first because it's more available in general practice. It's also generally less expensive than advanced imaging or even ultrasound. So that may come into play if we feel like that will give us a high yield for less cost. We would also use that primarily for the big picture, like if we want to look at the whole abdomen or the whole chest, and we're not looking at a specific organ. For lameness or suspicions of trauma with fractures, that's where I feel like x-rays would kind of trump the others.

What are baseline diagnostic images, and why are they important for my dog?

Baseline diagnostic images are basically just what it says. It gives us the baseline of what is normal versus what may be abnormal. They're important in certain situations, like if your pet comes in for a wellness exam and we diagnose a heart murmur, but the pet is not clinical, meaning they're not breathing hard or coughing, and they're not having any exercise intolerance. We may recommend what we call survey x-rays of the chest or even a survey echocardiogram. That is because we can look at the lungs and get a baseline of what is normal for this pet later down the road. When they're experiencing symptoms and clinical signs, we have that as a comparison.

So you can see a progression or not a progression. The other reason why we might consider baseline imaging would be that our patients tend to hide their problems. What we feel might be nonclinical or non-symptomatic, we might actually find a problem in the early stages of a disease that would carry a better prognosis if we started treatment early.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 802-1280, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

Dog Diagnostic Imaging - FAQs 3

Dr. Nichola Gaither
Animal Hospital of Statesville

Will my dog need lab tests before he has a diagnostic imaging session?

They may, especially if any type of sedation is required. That would be the one time I would think, yes, for sure they would. We would want to do some blood work or lab testing, depending on what we are looking for. A baseline blood screen would be right up there with the baseline imaging or x-rays. That can provide additional information for you.

What will a veterinarian be looking for by using dog diagnostic imaging?

Depending on the type of image that we're looking at, for instance, x-rays, we would specifically look at the problem we are x-raying. If it is lameness, we might be looking for any type of bone abnormality or arthritis that's settling in. That would be something that would be fairly easy to see on an x-ray. If we are using ultrasound for diagnostic imaging, we look for fluid, mass, or just an abnormal organ that may not be functioning the way that it should because the ultrasound is a little more specific at looking at the organs.

How can x-rays help my dog?

It can help us to know how to treat your pet. If we take an x-ray and we know we are treating, for example, a chronic problem over an acute problem, chronic being continuously going on.

Again, pets are great at hiding things. So if we x-ray a dog that comes in for, let's say, lameness of the rear leg, we sometimes see radiographic changes that indicate it didn't just happen this week; this happened months ago. You may not have observed or known about it, and your dog may not have shown you that. But that would carry a different treatment and recommendations than if we did not see long-term changes. This was more of an acute injury, meaning that it was an accident or something traumatic suddenly happened recently. Also, that would weigh in on prognosis. The prognosis of a sudden change might carry a better long-term outcome than if this has been going on for a while. Not that it couldn't have a good outcome, but we would expect there to be some lingering things, and we may want to implement supplements or treatments to help the pet long term.

How effective is the use of diagnostic imaging on my dog?

The effectiveness would depend on the quality of the image we get. Some of that could be the technology used. We use very advanced technology here, with newer ultrasound and our digital diagnostic x-rays and images. Digital versus the film, which can be very outdated. It also depends on the pet's position and willingness to cooperate during that procedure to get the best image. We want to do all our procedures with as little stress as possible. If we are stressing a pet out, we might say, okay, we're going to stop for today, and then come back on some calming medication, if that's an option for the pet, or maybe do it in a couple of sessions versus trying to get everything done in one session.

What happens if there's still no diagnosis after the diagnostic imaging?

We offer imaging x-rays, an ultrasound of the abdomen, and an echocardiogram of the heart. If we feel like we don't have all the answers, we could refer to a specialist. We could also try a test dose of medication. If we feel like we know what may be going on but can't exactly diagnose that without a doubt, we can test with medications to see if your pet responds to that.

And sometimes you have to do that because the client can't afford the MRI or the CT scan, something like that.

There might be times when we take follow-up images. That could be done if we might not see the problem today, like if your pet is vomiting, if they have something that's hurt, or if their breathing is not good. If you are very in tune with your pet and you've called this early, there may not be many changes that show up in the imaging. Then we may say, we're going to follow up with you in a week or two weeks or whatever that time period may be, and we'll repeat those images. That's a really good tool because, again, we may have what was today and compare that to what is later to see those changes that could be more obvious or different.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 802-1280, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

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