An x-ray (radiograph) produces a two-dimensional silhouette-like image of the structures inside the body.
An x-ray does not hurt but does require that the pet sit still while the picture is being taken. This is an easy thing for some dogs/cats and a very difficult thing for others, depending on their personality. Different types of x-rays require that the animal hold still in different positions, and similarly, some positions are comfortable and easy to hold still for (for example, laying on their side) while others are uncomfortable and difficult to hold still for (for example, laying on their back with the back legs stretched out behind them). For these reasons, some x-ray views can be taken while the animal is awake while other views may require sedation.
We can use x-rays to evaluate many different things. Some common examples of what we might find on an x-ray include;
- Bones: looking for arthritis, fractures, bone tumors, etc.
- Lungs: looking for asthma, pneumonia, edema, etc.
- Heart: looking for evidence of heart enlargement, heart chamber enlargement, heart failure, etc.
- Intestinal tract: looking for “foreign material” (dogs that eat naughty things), intestinal obstruction, etc.
- Bladder and Kidneys: looking for bladder stones, kidney stones, etc.
Abdominal x-rays and abdominal ultrasound are often complementary to each other. X-rays are good at showing us the overall size and shape of organs, whereas ultrasound is good at looking at fine details (such as wall layering and structure of the tissue itself). You can equate this to x-rays being like a picture of the “forest” as a whole, while ultrasound is a finely detailed picture of one single “tree”. We might recommend one, the other, or both, depending on what we are looking for.