Those silly pooches
Who doesn’t love happy, playful, loving dogs? However, sometimes they play too hard or run out in front of a careless motorist, or just don’t seem to be their usual selves, especially as they get older. In such cases, the veterinarian may order an x-ray as an essential diagnostic test.
What is an x-ray?
An x-ray, or radiograph, is a tool veterinarian used to diagnose health conditions. A special machine is used to take a picture of your dog’s insides.
It doesn’t hurt and only takes a few seconds. Cardiff Veterinary Hospital shows how easy it is.
Why are they called x-rays?
X-rays were first discovered in 1895 and since they were previously unknown, the discover called them “x” rays to indicate it was an unknown type of radiation.
The name stuck. Since their discovery, they have been widely used in medical imaging and other applications, such as scanning luggage.
Radiation sounds scary, is it dangerous?
Although x-rays do expose your dog to a brief burst of radiation, a single dose is considered to be very safe.
The technician who performs the procedure only wears that scary protective clothing because she takes multiple x-rays every day and multiple exposures may cause health issues.
So it CAN cause health issues.
Yes, heavy exposure to x-ray radiation can cause hair loss, skin burns, pain, and even radiation poisoning. It may also induce cases of cancer.
However, the dosages required to induce these health issues are many orders of magnitude higher than that delivered by a single medical imaging x-ray.
Will my dog need to be anesthetized?
According to the Pet Health Network, in most cases, dogs don’t even need to be sedated to undergo x-rays.
However, if the dog is in pain or won’t cooperate, or multiple images in different positions need to be taken, the dog may need to be sedated or anesthetized.
How does it work?
X-rays are a form of energy similar to light. Due to their short wavelength, they simply pass through soft tissues but are blocked by hard tissues like bones.
After passing through your pet, they strike a detector to create an image. LiveScience has more details about them.
Digital vs. film x-rays
Originally, all x-rays were detected by exposing the pattern of x-rays that passed through the dog to a piece of photographic film that was then developed just like a regular photograph and viewed on a light box.
Many veterinarians are now using a digital device that creates an image that is viewed on a computer screen.
What does an x-ray image look like?
In general, there will be white areas that indicate the shapes of bones and teeth, and areas that are various shades of gray indicating organs, muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
Any black areas indicate collections of fluid, such as cysts, or air in the lungs. The background around the area imaged is also black.
What can be viewed on an x-ray?
Bones and teeth are clearly visible on x-rays. The size and shape of solid organs such as the heart, liver, kidney, and spleen can easily be assessed.
The interior of the digestive tract can be viewed after administration of a barium solution. In addition, orthopedic hardware like plates and screws can be viewed.
Can the entire dog be visualized on an x-ray?
Although the entire body of a small dog can be visualized in one image, and the entire body of a large can be visualized by taking several images, in most cases only one particular part of the dog is imaged depending on the clinic need, such as the chest, the abdomen, or a particular limb.
Why does my dog need x-rays?
Veterinarians use x-rays to help them diagnose a wide range of conditions. Some of the most common are listed below:
If a dog suffers a trauma, such as being hit by a car, the veterinarian will usually x-ray the dog to see if any bones have been broken or cracked. X-rays may also be used to assess whether a fracture has healed properly.
Just like at the human dentist, x-rays are used to evaluate the teeth for abscesses, infections, cavities, and other problems. Issues that are beneath the gum line, such as with tooth roots, can only be viewed on dental x-rays.
3. Foreign bodies
Dogs like to eat things. Things that are not always food. If your dog is suspected of having eaten something or is suffering from digestive problems, the veterinarian may x-ray your dog to see if there is a foreign body in the digestive tract.
If your dog is stiff, limping, having trouble climbing stairs, or is reluctant to go for walks, the veterinarian may x-ray your dog to see if there are any signs of arthritis in the dog’s joints.
5. Bladder stones
Bladder stones can be seen clearly on x-rays. If a dog has symptoms of bladder stones, such as difficulty urinating, having accidents, or discolored urine, a veterinarian usually conducts an x-ray to confirm that is the problem.
A dog that is lethargic, having trouble breathing, running a fever, and/or coughing may have pneumonia. Signs of pneumonia can be detected on x-rays.
Although not all tumors can be seen on x-rays if a veterinarian suspects your dog’s symptoms are due to a tumor, an x-ray is usually ordered as the first diagnostic test.
Dogs being treated for cancer may also undergo periodic x-rays to monitor the treatment efficacy.
8. Growth plates
It is important to avoid doing certain activities with puppies, such as jogging, biking, and repetitive jumping, until their growth plates close (around 15 months for a large dog).
X-rays can be used to confirm they have closed. You can read more about appropriate puppy exercise at Puppy Culture.
9. Hip dysplasia
If you plan to breed your dog or engage in strenuous sports such as agility, it is necessary to check the dog for hip dysplasia. This is done using x-rays at around 2 years of age and the results should be reported to OFA.
After breeding, some breeders have the bitch x-rayed at 6 weeks of gestation to determine if there are any puppies, how many puppies are present, and if they are growing normally. However, this practice is controversial since some feel the x-rays may damage the puppies.
What are x-rays not useful for?
X-rays cannot be used to image the brain or provide a detailed image of organ structure. Plastic and fabric foreign bodies cannot be seen on x-rays.
Many tumors are also not visible on x-rays. In such cases, ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be recommended.
What is ultrasound?
Ultrasound uses sound waves to generate an image of internal structures. The dog’s fur usually needs to be shaved from the site to be viewed, then a gel is applied and a transducer is run over the area. The veterinarian observes the internal structures on a computer screen.
What is computed tomography?
Computed tomography uses x-rays and a computer program to build a detailed image of the interior of the dog.
It takes many different x-ray images, exposes the dog to a much higher dose of a radiation, and the dog usually has to be anesthetized for the procedure.
What is magnetic resonance imaging?
Magnetic resonance imaging uses a strong magnetic field and a computer program to construct a detailed image of the interior of the dog.
Sometimes a contrast agent is administered. It produces excellent images of soft tissues. The dog usually has to be anesthetized for the procedure.
Who interprets the radiographs?
In most cases, your regular veterinarian can read the radiographs. However, in complicated cases or if the veterinarian is unsure about the results, a veterinarian radiologist may be consulted to interpret the radiographs, usually via a telemedicine connection.
Can I see my x-rays?
In most cases, the veterinarian will show you the x-rays and discuss them with you so that you and the veterinarian can decide together how best to treat the dog’s condition.
The veterinarian is also obligated to provide you with a copy of the x-rays if you ask although there may be a fee involved.
So, how much does this cost?
The cost of x-rays varies quite a bit depending on various factors:
- Whether the facility is a general practice, an emergency clinic, or a large veterinarian hospital
- Your geographical location
- How many images need to be taken
- Whether a film or digital x-ray is used
- Whether the dog needs sedation or anesthesia
According to PetHelpful, a simple single-view x-ray may cost from $75 to $150 with each additional view costing $20 to $75.
These costs do not include other costs associated with the veterinarian visit such as the exam and the veterinarian’s time, or the treatment costs.
Sedation can significantly add to the cost.
If the dog needs to be sedated or anesthetized, the cost can increase significantly. The dog’s size affects the amount of drug that needs to be administered and thus affects the cost. The sedation may add $40 to $180 to the cost of the x-rays.
Emergency clinics charge significantly more.
If your dog is suffering a medical emergency and needs to be urgently seen at an emergency clinic, the costs can skyrocket.
These clinics charge extra because they need to cover the costs of staffing 24 hours a day and keeping specialized equipment in-house on standby at all times.
A consultation can also significantly add to the cost.
If the veterinarian needs to consult an expert veterinarian radiologist to interpret the x-rays, there may a significant fee added to the cost of the x-rays.
Although experts charge a wide range of fees, in general, a consultation may cost from $50 to $200.
Will pet insurance cover the cost of x-rays?
Most pet insurance policies will cover part or all of the costs associated with x-rays since it is a routine diagnostic procedure, but since every company has different processes and different levels of coverage can differ in what they cover, it is best to consult your individual policy.
Is pet insurance worth it?
The costs of veterinary care have been steadily increasing, and therefore a pet insurance policy may be a good idea. A single trip to an ER veterinarian can cost $3000 or more and treatment of some conditions can cost over $10,000.
What if I just put money aside in a savings account each month?
This approach may work for some, but as noted above, the increasing costs of veterinary care are making this approach unfeasible; pet owners find out their savings aren’t enough, or they find themselves raiding the pet’s savings account in order to pay for car/house repairs.
Is there a cheaper alternative to x-rays?
In some cases, an ultrasound can be substituted for an x-ray. However, many veterinarians have little to no training in reading ultrasounds and thus an expert consultation with associated costs may be required. Most other methods of medical imaging cost considerably more than x-rays.
Are there any alternative ways to pay a veterinarian?
Most veterinarians will take credit cards. Carecredit is also an option. Some veterinarians will arrange payment plans but others will not.
Some people have successfully paid their veterinarian bills using Crowdfunding, bake sales, yard sales, and other interesting methods.
The x-ray costs are usually an insignificant portion of the entire bill.
Although the costs of x-rays may seem high, after taking into account the costs of the clinic visit, the costs of other diagnostic methods applied such as blood work, and the treatment costs, the costs of an x-ray usually become fairly insignificant.
Many dogs need x-rays.
Having an x-ray is often the best first step to return your dog to his/her normal happy, loving self. It is best to ask direct questions about costs and benefits before agreeing to any test or treatment for your dog so you won’t be faced with sticker shock later.