When your pet is unwell, it can be frustrating to not know exactly what is going on since they, of course, cannot tell us themselves. It is quite a relief to know that we live in an age where the most advanced imaging technologies are available at a veterinarian’s fingertips to discover the root cause of any medical issue.

In fact, the same technology used for human diagnostic imaging is also used for animals. The machines are similar, albeit require modifications to accommodate the varying sizes of animals. 


Radiography (X-rays) uses electromagnetic radiation to view the internal structure of the body. This form of imaging allows veterinarians to diagnose, for instance, a broken bone or a foreign body. Intraoral radiographs, used for dentistry X-rays, help determine if a tooth warrants extraction or if there is an infection present.

The veterinarian reviews the images and determines which treatment is best for your pet, depending on the results. In some cases, images are sent to a veterinary radiology specialist, who views the images to further pinpoint diagnosis and confirm the veterinarian’s findings. 

CT scan

CT (Computed Tomography) scans use an X-ray machine to provide 2-D and 3-D images. A computer then combines the images into detailed, cross-sectional views. CT scans are useful in identifying ligament injuries, areas of bone trauma and even tumors.

For the scan, the animal must lie on a table that slides through a ring. This can prove to be an obstacle for larger animals, but there are tables available that hold up to 2,000 pounds.

The animal is typically placed under anesthesia for this procedure, as the patient needs to remain motionless. Depending on the complexity of the exam, CT scans can take a few minutes to an hour to complete.


Ultrasound machines are a safe, non-invasive way to examine internal organs. An ultrasound machine sends sound waves into the body and then listens for the echoes. The machine then uses these echoes to form an image of the inside of your pet.

Ultrasounds do not always give a clear picture of how well an organ is functioning however, so other tests, such as blood work is recommended.

Good contact between the ultrasound probe and your pet’s skin is necessary, as sound waves do not travel well through excessive fur. For this reason, your pet must be shaved in the area where the ultrasound is performed to obtain the best image possible.


Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) uses a strong magnetic field to align the natural spinning of water molecules within the body tissues. While it may sound sci-fi, MRI scans are safe, non-painful procedures.

This advanced imaging tool produces images with good contrast of the body’s soft tissues (muscles, spine, brain, etc.) that will provide your veterinarian with highly detailed information about any abnormalities your pet may have.

Pets must also be anesthetized for MRI scans, as they must remain very still. If any motion occurs, it may negatively affect the test results.

MEGAN L. FOUCH is the office manager at the Madison Park Veterinary Hospital (www.madisonparkvet.com). To comment on this column, write to MPTimes@nwlink.com.