Diagnostic Tests: Abdominal X-Ray

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Diagnostic Tests: Abdominal X-Ray | Dog Owner Ratings | RightPet

An abdominal x-ray is a radiographic imaging test which looks at the organs and structures in the abdomen, including the stomach, spleen, liver and kidneys.

Here is a list of some of the most common canine conditions where abdominal x-ray is used as a diagnostic tool.

Abdominal X-Ray to Diagnose Dog Cancers


Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. It often starts in the lymph nodes or spleen and spreads to other organs of the body. Staging of a lymphoma means the process of checking if and where it has spread in the body. It usually involves blood tests, fine needle aspirated of the lymph nodes and xrays of the chest and abdomen, along with ultrasound if possible. An abdominal xray gives a good overall picture of the abdomen, allowing the vet to look for any obvious abnormalities or changes in "normal" size, location and appearance of organs which might indicate cancer. An ultrasound does give better detail and allows the vet to complete detailed measurements and view any movement and blood flow. I usually complete both x-rays and ultrasound if possible in these patients.

Abdominal X-Ray to Diagnose Dog Reproductive Conditions

Birthing Difficulties (Uterine Inertia)

Biggest value of the ultrasound examination over x-rays is that it can detect the heartbeat of surviving puppies, which is impossible with x-ray. Downside of the ultrasound however, is that it can't detect through intestinal gas, which is not uncommon in the uterus and intestines during complicated births. Since there is nothing in the body which would obscure puppies on an x-ray, it's amore reliable way to check on the remaining puppies in the uterus, and to count exactly how many are left, which can be challenging with ultrasound.

Enlarged Prostrate (Prostatomegaly)

An enlarged prostate is the most common disease of the male dog reproductive tract. Common causes include: benign prostate hypertrophy (hormonal), prostate cysts, prostate infection or prostate cancer. An X-ray of a dog's abdomen allows the bladder, prostate, and other abdominal organs to be visualised. It can help to check for other abnormalities within the abdomen.

Infected Uterus (Pyometra)

A pyometra will have a very distinct appearance on abdominal x-rays. These will be recommended if there is the concern for an infected uterus. Abdominal x-rays are non-invasive and most patients are very tolerant of the positioning required to obtain them. Usually the doctor has obtained a thorough history and has done an examination they will recommend doing blood work and either an x-ray or ultrasound to confirm their diagnosis and develop a treatment plan. Often times emergency surgery is required to remove the infected uterus.

Abdominal X-Ray to Diagnose Dog Stomach and Intestinal Problems

Bloat (Gastric Dilatation Volvulus)

An abdominal x-ray is one of the most important steps in diagnosing a gastric-dilatation volvulus (GDV, or bloat). GDV occurs when the stomach becomes gas-filled and flips over in the abdominal cavity. It is a severe condition, potentially fatal, and always an emergency. A dog with GDV has the best chance of survival when it is diagnosed early.

Dogs with GDV often have non-productive retching, a bloated appearance in their abdomen, and marked weakness. Sometimes patients are not stable on presentation and emergency treatments such as fluids, pain meds, and oxygen are administered. As soon as a patient is stabilized, abdominal x-rays should be taken. This is quick and non-invasive. X-rays are the best way to confirm a suspicion of GDV. In GDV, the stomach as a characteristic bloated appearance, and often appears as two discrete segments due to the twisting, or volvulus, that occurs. The minute an x-ray is taken, the veterinarian can confirm the diagnosis of GDV and can proceed with appropriate treatments. All dogs with suspected GDV should have an x-ray as soon as possible.

Radiography is a great tool to see the change in size, shape, dislocation, number, surface and margin of the spleen. It's not the best tool to see soft tissue details. If there is some change found from the image, further diagnosis such as ultrasound should perform.

Foreign Body Intestinal Obstruction

X-rays allow good visualization of the abdomen and are a good way to check for signs of a foreign body. Some foreign bodies will be radio opaque (dense like bone) and show up easily on the x-ray e.g. bones, metal, certain toys. Other types of foreign bodies may not show up easily e.g. string, cloth/fabric. Sometimes the vet has to look for other signs of obstruction such as excess gas, dilation (swelling) of the intestines or certain patterns in the intestine.

Abdominal X-Ray To Diagnose Dog Urinary Conditions

Acute Renal Failure (ARF)

Symptoms and history of acute kidney injury and subsequent failure aren't very specific, and while blood chemistry is indicative of kidney dysfunction, it doesn't tell us much about it's origin. High blood creatinine indicates that kidney function is impaired, but it doesn't indicate if the impaired function is due to pre-renal factors like heart disease or shock, intrinsic kidney disease like pyelonephritis or urinary obstruction due to kidney, urether or bladder stones. After Physical exam, CBC and blood chemistry, survey abdominal radiographs are usually the next step, and a good way to look for obstruction and kidney stones, they can also show kidney enlargement or other size and shape anomalies. In some cases these radiographs can be very helpful and give us definitive diagnosis, for example when we find urinary obstruction due to stones, while in other cases they can be unremarkable, which is also valuable information, since then we can exclude certain conditions from the list of differential diagnoses.

Bladder Rupture

Symptoms of bladder rupture don't really point to it directly, neither does the physical exam, though some clues can be found. Survey abdominal radiographs are always a good choice in cases which are "neither here nor there", they can reveal a lot about abdominal organs. Absence, or really small bladder in combination with free fluid on abdominal x-rays is indicative of bladder rupture, though it's not that clear in every case, and some additional diagnostics or special x-ray techniques may be required to confirm the diagnosis.

Bladder Stones (Urolithiasis)

There are many different types of bladder stones. Some are radio opaque , meaning they show up easily and clearly on an x-ray. Some are radiolucent, meaning they do not show up easily on an x-ray (almost invisible!). Therefore an x-ray is a great way to check for the radio opaque bladder stones, which are thankfully much more common. The urine should always be checked for crystals as well, to rule out the type that don't show up on x-ray and I always check the bladder with ultrasound too.

Ureter Stones (Ureterolithiasis)

When it comes to diagnosing problem with urinary tract, ultrasound is preferred to x-ray, however there are some cases in which x-ray is far superior. Ureters are thin structures, though they dilate when obstructed, view of which can be obstructed by a number of structures on ultrasound. This is not the case with x-rays, and if stones are radiolucent (visible on x-ray) they stick out like a sore thumb, while looking for them on ultrasound can be quite challenging. X-rays are generally easy to perform on patients and usually does not require anesthesia. It is a helpful initial evaluation as not all practices have access to ultrasound.

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

Abdominal x-rays are part of the urinary work-up recommended for dogs with urinary clinical signs. X-rays will identify any urinary stones present that could be a source of infection. An x-ray of the urinary tract can be helpful and often times necessary, in cases of recurring urinary tract infections. An x-ray can show bladder stones, thickening of the bladder wall, obstructions, certain cancers and other abnormalities of the urinary tract. X-rays are an important diagnostic tool that your veterinarian may recommend in order to figure out the cause of a UTI in your pet.

Urinary Tract Obstruction

If an obstruction is caused by a stone which is the most common, it can usually be found on an x-ray. X-ray is non-invasive and can be done on most dogs without sedation. This is a helpful starting point when all we know is that the dog has abdominal pain. Often times a very large bladder directs us to look for an obstruction.

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