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Feline Diagnostic Imaging, Ultrasound, MRI, and Radiology

What is Veterinary Diagnostic Imaging for Cats?

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 cat's health.

The vast majority of imaging is non-invasive and completely painless. However, some imaging may require sedation or anesthesia because the cat must be kept still to allow for accurate images to be produced.

When is Veterinary Diagnostic Imaging necessary for your Cat?

After your veterinarian has examined your cat, they may want to begin to collect more information that will lead to a diagnosis and treatment plan. X-rays are usually a first line of imaging. However, sometimes the next step may be an ultrasound to get a more thorough or specific look at a particular area of the body.

For instance, if your cat is vomiting and feeling ill, your veterinarian may take an x-ray to look for possible causes such as an obstruction of the intestines or an obvious foreign body.

Cat X-Rays

X-rays have been in use throughout the medical community for many decades, and 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 the skeletal structure and composition, large body cavities, and the presence of many foreign objects.

X-rays for cats usually proceed as follows:

  • The cat 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 allows for low levels of radiation, and when used only occasionally, are perfectly safe for your cat

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.

Cat Ultrasounds

Ultrasound is the second most common type of diagnostic imaging tool veterinarians use to diagnose a cat's medical condition. Ultrasounds use soundwaves to examine and photograph internal tissues in real time. An ultrasound allows a veterinarian to see into a cat's 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.

An ultrasound for a cat usually proceeds as follows:

  • A 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
  • The ultrasound equipment converts these echoes into electrical impulses that are then further transformed into a digital image that represents the appearance of the tissues

\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 veterinarian to use ultrasound include:

  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Kidney impairment or blockage
  • Heart Disease


MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) equipment generates a very powerful magnetic field, resulting in detailed anatomic images of whatever part of a cat's body is being scanned.

A cat MRI procedure usually proceeds as follows:

  • The cat is placed in a tubular electromagnetic chamber
  • The cat's body is continuously pulsed with radio waves for a period of time, usually 10-20 minutes
  • 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

MRI in cats is not used as regularly as x-ray or ultrasound because the equipment is very expensive and large.

If our veterinarian recommends an MRI for your cat, we will refer you to a specialty hospital where you will meet with an veterinary specialist to have this procedure performed.

CT Scans for Cats

CT scans are computer enhanced x-ray procedures most often used to evaluate complex parts of the body, such as the head, chest, some joints, and various internal organs. CT scans show different levels of tissue density, and produce more detailed images than x-rays.

CT scans usually proceed as follows:

  • The cat is placed on a motorized bed inside of a CT scanner, a machine that takes a series of x-rays from various angles
  • When one series, or scan, is completed, the bed moves forward, and another scan is taken
  • A computer uses these scans to create cross-sectional images of the body part under investigation, and then display the images on a monitor (an x-ray dye may be injected intravenously to make it easier to see abnormalities)

CT scans for cats are most often used by our veterinarians to detect structural changes deep within a cat's body, including:

  • Tumors
  • Deep abcesses or foreign body presense
  • Fractures

Like MRI equipment, CT scan equipment is very expensive and large.

If our veterinarian recommends a CT scan for your cat, we will refer you to a specialty hospital where you will meet with a veterinary specialist to have this procedure performed. 

Contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our veterinarians today!

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