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Types of Diagnostic Testing for Pets

Veterinary diagnostic tests are an exceptional tool used by our Beacon veterinarians to help us pinpoint the cause, extent, or seriousness of your pet's illness or injury. Depending on your pet's condition, the type of pet diagnostic test used will vary. Below are a few of the tests that your vet may recommend to help diagnose or treat your dog or cat.

Radiography (X-Rays)

X-rays play a crucial role in animal laboratory testing as a valuable diagnostic tool. Veterinarians can use them to identify issues like broken bones, bladder stones, swallowed foreign objects, and more. In addition to their ability to detect tumors, pregnancy, and enlarged organs, they can also aid in the diagnosis of heart disease or cancer.

Other diagnostic imaging techniques, such as MRI and ultrasound, are more useful for providing a detailed view of a pet's organs, tissues, or ligaments, as X-rays do not offer the same level of detail.

X-rays for dogs and cats are safe, painless, and do not require any invasive procedures. Very low doses of radiation are used, and pregnant pets remain unaffected. Clear images of the body often necessitate the use of sedation. However, if the dog or cat is calm, not experiencing excessive pain, and able to rest comfortably, sedation may not be necessary.


Ultrasounds are a powerful tool for imaging that can effectively diagnose or evaluate issues with a pet's internal organs and monitor their pregnancy. Non-invasive methods can detect and treat medical conditions such as cysts and tumors.

Ultrasounds on different parts of your pet's body require different preparations. Make sure to consult with your veterinarian for guidance on how to properly prepare your pet for an ultrasound. Refrain from eating or drinking for 8 to 12 hours before abdominal ultrasounds. The urinary bladder is more thoroughly examined when it is filled with urine. If it's possible, it's best for your cat or dog to avoid urinating for 3 to 6 hours before the ultrasound.

We will most likely shave the area to be examined in order to produce clear images. Most pets will stay calm and cooperative during the ultrasound, but a few may need to be sedated.

PET/CT Scans

Your pet must remain completely still during CT and PET scans. Therefore, general anesthesia will most likely be administered by your veterinarian. We monitor vital signs and perform a quick scan. A specialist interprets the images and sends a detailed report to the veterinarian treating the pet.

Computed Tomography - CT Scans

CT scans provide a detailed image of a dog or cat's bony and soft tissue structures, such as the spine, nasal cavity, inner ear, bones/joints, and chest/lungs. You can also use them to evaluate the lymph nodes, thyroid gland, abdominal organs, skull/brain, and vascular structures.

Positron Emission Tomography - PET Scans

Your pet will receive a CT scan along with the intravenous (IV) administration of a contrast agent. Veterinarians can observe greater blood flow in the animal's body. PET scans are effective in detecting cancer and areas of inflammation.


Blood tests have the ability to detect the earliest signs of illness before any visible symptoms manifest. Help is available for disease or illness detection, identification, diagnosis, and treatment. During routine exams for healthy pets, blood tests are necessary to obtain normal baseline values. Your veterinarian can use diagnostic blood tests to determine the cause of your dog's symptoms.

Doctors often rely on two common tests to diagnose various conditions such as anemia, inflammation, infection, immune system response, and blood clotting ability. These tests include a complete blood count (CBC) and a complete blood chemistry panel, which includes electrolytes and urinalysis. Your veterinarian can gather important information about the health and function of your pet's liver, kidneys, and pancreas by analyzing the chemistry panel and electrolytes. Complex issues within a dog's internal systems, such as hormonal and chemical responses, can also be detected and identified through blood tests.


Determining the physical and chemical properties of urine is easily done through a urinalysis, a straightforward diagnostic test. It primarily assesses the health of the kidneys and urinary system, while also uncovering issues with other organ systems. It is recommended that all pets over the age of eight undergo a yearly urinalysis. If your pet is experiencing increased water intake, increased frequency of urination, or visible blood in the urine, a urinalysis may be recommended.

Fecal Exams

Veterinarians perform fecal exams in their office to diagnose and treat various infections that could potentially harm your pet's health. Your family can be protected by having your pet examined annually, as intestinal parasites can be transmitted to humans.

Veterinarians can detect intestinal parasites like hookworms and roundworms through fecal exams. Pets may experience discomfort and irritability, which can potentially develop into more serious conditions. Examining feces is the most effective method for detecting parasites, as they can go undetected and potentially infect other pets or people in the home.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging - MRI

Since the early 1980s, MRI has been extensively utilized for diagnosing human health problems. However, the use of veterinary MRIs has only gained popularity in recent times.

MRI scans capture detailed images of soft tissues such as the brain, spinal cord, ligaments, tendons, and abdominal organs. These scans are used to identify injuries and diseases with precision. Other diagnostic imaging tools like x-rays or CT scans pale in comparison to their level of detail.

If your pet is showing signs of limping, lameness, seizures, joint pain, neck pain, back pain, or paralysis, a veterinarian may suggest an MRI to aid in identifying the underlying cause of these symptoms.

Performing MRIs on dogs and cats typically takes around 45 minutes to an hour. Before the scan, we administer a general anesthetic to ensure success. Vets advise conducting blood tests and x-rays prior to the MRI to ensure the pet's suitability for general anesthesia.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Are you curious about diagnostic imaging for pets? Does your dog or cat have an upcoming test? Contact our Beacon veterinarians today for more information or to book an appointment.

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Our vets at The Beacon Veterinary Associates are now accepting new patients! Our experienced team of veterinary professionals are passionate about giving the cats and dogs of Beacon the health care they need. Contact us today to schedule your pet's first appointment.

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