The most common diagnostic imaging test for sick pets is an X-ray,* because they allow veterinarians to investigate injuries and illnesses in a noninvasive manner. Ideal for visualizing the stomach, bones, intestines and abnormal fluid in the body, this imaging test also helps to rule out medical issues when these internal structures appear normal.
Whether an X-ray is needed unexpectedly or it’s scheduled ahead of time, you can expect to pay an average of $200 depending on the medical condition.** The good news is that most pet insurance companies cover X-rays as long as it is recommended by your veterinarian and not for a pre-existing condition.
Why X-rays are used
While testing to see if cathode rays could pass through glass, Wilhelm Röntgen accidentally discovered X-rays in 1895† and since then, the imaging method has improved how doctors diagnose and treat.
According to National Institute of Heath, pet X-rays are no different than X-rays for humans: Electromagnetic radiation passes through the body, gets absorbed in various amounts by internal structures and ends their journey at the X-ray film or detector.‡ The resulting image is called a radiograph, which can be viewed on an X-ray film or computer screen.
When looking at the radiograph, internal structures such as bone appear whiter, while soft tissues like muscle and fat appear as shades of gray. The black regions found on a radiograph are actually just air.
What to expect when your pet gets an X-ray
Doctors turn to X-rays because they are readily available in the clinic and evaluate multiple structures at once. To make them more comfortable and calm, pets may need to be sedated while lying on the X-ray table. In some cases, pets need multiple imaging diagnostics, meaning after the X-rays, your pet may need an MRI, ultrasound, or a CT scan.
How do X-rays help?
Here are three common cases showing how X-rays helped veterinarians make a diagnosis and recommend the best treatment. While there are various ways pets can be positioned for X-rays, in all three of our cases, the pets are lying on their side.
Case #1: A mixed breed dog was vomiting, acting lethargic and not eating. The veterinarian recommended a radiograph in order to see the dog’s stomach and intestines.
Image credit: Dr. Noé Galván
This image above shows the bone the dog ingested trapped in his stomach. Radiographs allowed the veterinary medical team to plan the surgery and remove the bone.
Diagnosis: Gastrointestinal Foreign Body
Average cost for Gastrointestinal foreign body treatment is $3,168.‡
Case #2: A Miniature Pinscher is urinating frequently and sometimes with blood. The veterinarian recommended radiographs to take a closer look at the bladder.
Image credit: Dr. Noé Galván
In the radiograph above, you can see the hip, the spine, and both back legs. The circled regions show stones in the bladder and the urethra (the passageway from the bladder to the outside of the body). Once the team located the cause of the Miniature Pinscher’s irregular urination, the veterinarian surgically removed the.
Diagnosis: Bladder and Urethral Stones (Urolithiasis)
Bladder stone treatment can cost an average of $1,780.‡
Case #3: A Siberian Husky was favoring his hind leg so the veterinarian recommended radiographs to evaluate his bones.
Image credit: Dr. Daniel Heinrich
Here, you can see the dog’s femur bone was broken. In this case, the X-rays determined the severity of the injury and prompted the vets to operate to repair the fracture.
Diagnosis: Fractured Femur
Treatment for a fractured femur can cost an average of $2,602.§
Doing everything you can to prevent these types of illnesses and injuries helps, but pet insurance can be part of the picture, too. Why? Because, we never know when the unexpected will strike. Pet insurance ensures that if your pet should ever require testing, treatment or medication, you won’t have to worry about the financial aspect to getting your pet the care that they need.
*Merck Veterinary Manual
**According to Petplan Claims Data
† Columbia University Irving Medical Center, History of Medicine: Dr Roentgen’s Accidental X-Rays
‡National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering
§Average cost based on Petplan paid claims data from 2018-2019
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