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Canine Diagnostic Imaging, Ultrasound, MRI, and Radiology

What is Veterinary Diagnostic Imaging?

Veterinary diagnostic imaging includes x-rays, ultrasound, MRI, and CT scans, all of which are used as diagnostic tools to collect information on your dog's health. The vast majority of imaging is non-invasive and completely painless. However, some imaging may require sedation or anesthesia because the patient must be kept still to allow for adequate images to be produced. Veterinarians use these images to collect information on your dog to help them make a medical or surgical plan.

When is Veterinary Diagnostic Imaging necessary?

After your veterinarian has examined your dog, they may want to begin to collect more information that will lead to a diagnosis and then, a treatment plan.

The four types of Veterinary Diagnostic Imaging our veterinarians may utilize to assist in diagnosis of your dog's condition are:

  • X-Rays
  • MRIs
  • Ultrasounds
  • CT Scans

What Veterinary Diagnostic Imaging does SCVG offer?

SCVG offers x-rays and ultrasound on-site.

If other diagnostic imaging, such as CT Scan or MRI is recommended, your veterinarian will be able to refer you to facilities in the area that have this equipment available.

Types of Veterinary Diagnostic Imaging:

Dog 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 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 dogs can benefit from sedation to reduce anxiety and stress.

X-rays for your dog usually proceed as follows:

  • The dog 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

Our x-ray images are 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.

Dog Ultrasounds

Ultrasound is the second most common type of diagnostic imaging tool veterinarians use to diagnose a dog's medical condition. Ultrasounds use soundwaves to examine and photograph internal tissues in real time, allowing for easy viewing of organs from different angles that are not easily achieved through x-rays. The functioning of various organs and blood flow can be observed to determine if they are malfunctioning.

An ultrasound procedure for your dog usually proceeds as follows:

  • A technician gently presses a small probe against the dog's body that emits digital sound waves
  • The sound waves are directed to various parts of the dog'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

Common symptoms that may cause a veterinarian to suggest ultrasound include: vomiting, weight loss, kidney impairment or blockage, and heart disease.


Magnetic resonance imaging is the newest form of diagnostic imaging used for both human and veterinary medicine. MRI equipment generates a very powerful magnetic field, resulting in detailed anatomic images of whatever part of a dog's body is being scanned. MRIs are considered extremely safe.

An MRI procedure for your dog usually proceeds as follows:

  • The dog is placed in a tubular electromagnetic chamber
  • The dog's body is continuously pulsed with radio waves for a period of time, usually 10-20 minutes
  • The pulsing causes the dog's body tissues to emit radio frequency waves that can be detected by the MRI equipment

Dogs must be sedated for this procedure because they must remain still during the procedure.

MRI for dogs is not used as regularly as an x-ray or ultrasound because the equipment is very expensive and large. Our doctors work closely with specialists and specialty hospitals that can provide this mode of imaging for your dog. 

CT Scans for Dogs

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. By scanning an entire body area, an organ or other structure can be imaged without invasively penetrating the body, or disrupting neighboring structures.

A CT scan for your dog usually proceed as follows:

  • The dog 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

Dogs must be sedated for this procedure because they must remain still during the procedure.

CT scans are most often used to detect structural changes deep within a dog's body, including:

  • Tumors
  • Deep abscesses or foreign body presence
  • Fractures

CT scans for dogs are not used as regularly as an x-ray or ultrasound because the equipment is very expensive and large. Our doctors work closely with specialists and specialty hospitals that can provide this mode of imaging for your pet. 

How X-Rays influence Veterinary Recommendations

The goal of canine x-rays 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 some soft tissue swelling in the knee, but the addition of an MRI would reveal the specific tendon or ligament tear that is causing a dog to limp and allow for a more specific treatment plan, diagnosis, and prognosis.

Sometimes a diagnostic imaging session can lead to the need for further diagnostics. This is why it is important to understand that diagnostic imaging may lead to a progressive fact-finding mission that must occur in order to diagnose your dog's ailment.

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

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