Dog Diagnostic Imaging - The Purpose & Benefits Of Dog Diagnostic Imaging

How is diagnostic imaging used in diagnosing my dog?

Diagnostic imaging in veterinary practice involves the use of various tools to get images of your pet's body to help us decide what's going on and formulate a treatment plan. The main tools we use at our practice are digital radiographs, or x-rays, and ultrasound. x-rays can help us diagnose all kinds of conditions from tumors to lung disease to bladder stones, kidney stones, gallstones, and even diseases of the hips like hip dysplasia. We also very frequently will send out x-rays for a radiology consult, which means that we have a boarded radiologist take a look at those x-rays as well and make sure that we don't miss anything because, while we can tell obvious things, some changes can be something a little more difficult and we want to make sure we don't miss anything. Ultrasound, on the other hand, is a good tool for looking for inflammation, blockages in the intestines, bladder stones, bladder cancer, and can be more definitive on possible tumors in the abdomen than x-ray.

X-ray can tell us if there's a big growth, and we can see that there's something occupying a space, but ultrasound tells us more about the texture and the organ it is coming from. There are just so many things the ultrasound can tell us. Those are the two main uses of diagnostic imaging that we use here at this practice. We're going to get into some other things we can use. If we have a patient that can't walk or is paralyzed, then that patient's going to get referred to one of the specialty hospitals to get either an MRI or a CT scan. Although that sounds crazy, dogs and cats can definitely get MRIs and CTs as well. The biggest difference between human medicine and veterinary medicine is that our furry patients do need to be under sedation and anesthesia because you can't tell a cat or dog to hold completely still.

When they go in the MRI tube, the walls are in their face, and that makes an animal panic. We do use a lot of sedation and anesthesia to perform those diagnostic imaging. There are other types that veterinary oncologists might use, such as nuclear scintigraphy, where they can get tumor cells to light up and fluoresce. There's also fluoroscopy endoscopy, where they put scopes down in the intestines or up the colon. Any form of imaging that humans can get, dogs and cats can get as well. They even get cardiac echos, where you get an ultrasound on your chest looking at the heart and making measurements. We have a sonographer that comes in and does those procedures for us and a cardiologist that reads out the studies. Something that we probably need to chat a little bit about when we're talking about more advanced diagnostic testing, like an MRI or a CT, with human medicine, we can just pay or co-pay. With dogs and cats, unless you have pet insurance, and even then, you're going to be responsible for putting that cost upfront and then getting reimbursed on the back end by your pet insurance.

Those tests can be a few thousand dollars, so you do have to have that in the back of your head. That is why I advocate for either pet insurance or your own health savings account that you put fifty dollars a month into for fluffy and just forget about it because you never know. If your dog or cat never has anything wrong with them, great. You have a little nest egg. But if they do, then it's not going to be something to knock the wind out of your sails and you're just not prepared for it.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (281) 801-1444, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram

Dr. Meghan Denney
Four Paws At Fulshear

Dog Diagnostic Imaging - FAQs

Dr. Meghan Denney
Four Paws At Fulshear

Will my dog need a lab test prior to any diagnostic imaging?

It really depends on the situation. Most of the time, we have our blood work done before our diagnostic imaging. For instance, if your dog has elevated liver values, we would want to look into this via an ultrasound. In our practice, we focus on preventative medicine and annual blood work, allowing us to catch a lot of problems before they become symptomatic. There are cases, however, where a patient comes in feeling sick, in which instance we might have diagnostic imaging going at the same time that our blood work is going. This helps us get a better clinical picture of what's happening and to narrow down the possible causes, leading to a more targeted treatment plan. With dogs and cats coming in for vomiting or diarrhea, the list of possibilities is pages. Because you can think about it, every abdominal organ that could be having problems can cause these symptoms. So we have to very quickly narrow the field down so we can have a targeted treatment plan to figure out how we can address this.

Is it the liver that's having problems? Then we're going to do liver medication and possible hospitalization. There's a lot that goes into it, but these diagnostics are there to help us narrow the field. If I'm looking at a dog that comes in for vomiting and diarrhea and I don't have any imaging or lab work, I have to just treat it symptomatically, and that's not always the best because what if the liver is failing, and we're just addressing tummy upset but we don't address the liver disease. If an older patient vomits and doesn't feel well, the owner doesn't want to or maybe can't afford diagnostic imaging, and we treat it symptomatically, what if that patient has a big cancer tumor in its abdomen. We would have made a completely different decision on what to do and what steps to take if we'd had that imaging.

What can I expect from a dog diagnostic imaging session?

The process will depend on the type of imaging we're doing and the dog's condition. Most sessions are done without sedation or anesthesia and usually take less than an hour, especially for X-rays. If we're not statting the X-rays, we usually have results back in a day or two. The actual procedure itself is typically done in less than an hour, often within half an hour.

How effective is the use of diagnostic imaging?

Diagnostic imaging helps us narrow down the causes of symptoms. There are instances where it provides a clear answer, like if a dog has eaten a toy or if a cat is urinating blood due to bladder stones. In some of our more sad cases, if an older large breed dog comes in limping, it could just be arthritis, but maybe it's not. We have to look for bone cancer, and x-rays are very sensitive for bone cancer. It's very diagnostic, especially if it's farther along in the course of disease. If I don't catch it, then the radiologist will. The same goes with ultrasound. If your dog or cat is vomiting, has abdominal pain, lethargy, and is hiding and not wanting to eat, we do an ultrasound. If the pancreas is mad, you're going to see it. A pancreas that's normal, you're not usually going to see on an ultrasound. When the pancreas is mad, we see it. When the liver is upset, we can see it. If there's a tumor in the spleen, we see that on an ultrasound. We get very definitive answers.

What happens if there is still no diagnosis after dog diagnostic imaging?

Even if we don't have a definitive answer after all these tests, we would have ruled out a long list of diseases. We have to be able to sit here and clinically look at the diagnostics you have done, what the patient is doing, and build a list of things that maybe aren't so common. We may have to do additional testing to get there. If we reach a point where we've exhausted all testing resources here, we may consider a referral to internal medicine or surgery. We may also consider more sensitive testing that we can't do here. It can be frustrating not to have all the answers right away, but please know that we are persistent and will work as a team to figure out what's going on with your pet.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (281) 801-1444, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram