Digital radiology and X-ray encompasses a wide array of equipment to help veterinarians obtain bodily imaging and, consequently, diagnose and treat conditions in animals. X-rays, or radiographs, are one of the most common radiology services for pets, as they are for human patients.

When a physical exam and blood work are not sufficient enough to pinpoint a diagnosis, X-ray images help veterinarians see the animal’s organs, bones, and tissues without probing or invading the animal’s body. The fact that pet radiology has advanced over time is extremely beneficial to pets and their caretakers. Now that radiographic images are digital, not processed films, pet owners can receive a speedier diagnosis than ever before. Less wait time means less anxiety and faster treatment, if treatment is deemed necessary.

Moreover, the animal has decreased exposure to radiation with the digital technology, which makes the X-ray procedure safer now than in the past. Because continued radiation exposure can cause cell mutations that may lead to cancer, veterinarians are selective about the medical situations that warrant the extra insight an X-ray provides.

X-rays can check for bone fractures, tumors, abdominal abnormalities, kidney stones, ingestion of foreign objects, and situations that may require surgery. One common X-ray area is of the chest, as veterinarians can get a better look at the condition of the animal’s lungs, heart, and surrounding ribs in cases of extreme cough, difficulty breathing, heart murmurs, and recent injuries or trauma.

Sedation & Anesthesia

During the X-ray process, animals might be sedated for a number of reasons. If the animal is in a large amount of pain, has anxiety or trouble remaining still, or has to remain in a particularly strained or awkward position for the image, then the animal is likely to receive anesthesia. The animal may experience some sleepiness from the anesthesia but should be back to normal within 24 hours.


Sometimes, it is imperative for a veterinarian to obtain even more in-depth images; for example, the veterinarian might search for specific areas of inflammation or abnormal growth. In these cases, the animal orally receives some type of contrast agent, usually barium, before getting the X-ray. Barium is safe to use, but veterinarians take extra precaution to make sure the animals swallow barium properly, so the substance does not enter their lungs.

Other Diagnostic Technologies

Hopefully, an X-ray provides the answer that the veterinarian seeks about the animal’s medical or surgical condition. Ultrasounds are another imaging tool that a veterinarian might recommend in lieu of or alongside an X-ray. They utilize sound waves to produce an image, usually of the animal’s heart or abdomen. Sometimes, veterinarians require even more advanced imaging to clarify the diagnosis or examine a complex situation. That imaging is likely to come in the form of a CT scan or an MRI. These imaging tests entail a more involved process for animals and can be costly. As a result, a veterinarian would have a strong reason for recommending them.

The radiologists who perform the X-rays and provide an interpretation of the radiographs are certified veterinarians with specific training in diagnostic imaging. It is possible that more than one veterinarian could examine the radiograph results. This allows for a thorough assessment of the animal’s condition. The digital process permits certain specialists to quickly and remotely receive and peruse the scans online. Furthermore, this process means less travel time for pet owners. 

Ultimately, a veterinarian determines the medical necessity of an X-ray or other form of imaging for the patient. However, pet owners and veterinarians work together to make the final radiology decisions that are in the best interest of the animal.