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When you think about x-rays, you might think about bones. It’s true, x-rays are often used to diagnose broken or displaced bones and can show bone tumors or infections. But x-rays can give your veterinarian so much more information about your pet’s health and can give clues about why your pet is sick.

If your pet has a tendency to eat things it shouldn’t, abdominal x-rays can show if something is obstructing the intestines and causing your pet to vomit.  Abdominal x-rays can give your veterinarian an idea about the size and shape of other organs such as the liver, spleen, kidneys, prostate, bladder, uterus, etc. Many times a tumor of one of these organs can also be spotted on abdominal x-rays.  Occasionally your pet may be given a contrast agent (either by mouth or into a vein) to highlight specific areas.

Chest x-rays are also very useful. Disorders of the lungs, such as pneumonia, heart failure, tumors, and others can be seen. Sometimes fluid builds up between the lungs and the chest wall and this is usually noticed easily. A chest x-ray can show the size and shape of the heart, and often will indicate which part of the heart might not be working properly. If there is a problem with the esophagus or the trachea it can sometimes be noticed. In addition, enlarged lymph nodes can be seen. Valley Fever is very common in Arizona, and enlarged lymph nodes or certain lung changes on x-rays can alert your veterinarian to this disease in your pet.

X-rays aren’t just good for the belly or chest.  Veterinarians will often use them to assess other parts of the body as well. Dental x-rays can show if portions of the tooth roots or underlying bone have been compromised. Your veterinarian may also want to take x-rays of the head and neck to look for tumors, obstructions or dislocated bones. Sometimes x-rays of the spine can be used to identify a slipped disk or other vertebral problems if your pet is having back pain or trouble walking.

There are some things for which x-rays are not ideal. X-rays do not show the internal structure of organs.  They are two-dimensional and don’t show movement or color. If your veterinarian needs this type of information, he or she may want to pursue advanced diagnostic testing such as ultrasound, CT or MRI.

Many people think that x-rays may harm their pet due to the radiation. This is not true! The amount of radiation used is very small, and exposure is for a fraction of a second. To have damage from radiation, they would need to be exposed to high amounts for long periods of time.

At Southern Arizona Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center, we utilize the latest technology in x-ray acquisition and interpretation. All of our x-rays are digital, so there is no film to develop and the quality of the images cannot be surpassed.  The digital format allows us to quickly burn CDs of your pet’s images or e-mail them to your primary care veterinarian. Also, nearly all of our x-rays are interpreted by a board-certified veterinary radiologist.  Your pet’s images will be read and a report will be generated. The process typically takes about 2 to 3 hours; however, the process can be expedited in emergency situations. This is a valuable resource and we feel it provides you and your pet the best veterinary medicine has to offer.

Taking x-rays is a common and sometimes life-saving process. Please do not hesitate to speak to your veterinarian about questions and concerns you may have regarding diagnostic tests he or she recommends.

— Kimberly Mulligan, DVM