Dog X-rays: Cost and Helpful Information
Veterinarians use x-rays on a regular basis to help them diagnose and monitor a variety of conditions. Dog owners should know some basic information about the cost and what is included in the cost, how the x-rays are used, and the safety of the procedure.
What Can X-rays Diagnose in Dogs?
Doggie x-rays can help veterinarians identify orthopedic issues, intestinal issues, tumors, ulcers, and polyps, in addition to the broken bones they are used for in humans. Orthopedic issues include things like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, fractures and bone deformations.
Intestinal issues include blockages because a dog swallowed a non-food item or bladder stones. However, x-rays may not be the best tool for identifying tumors that blend in with surrounding tissue, or for diagnosing neurological, cardiac, or pulmonary issues. Other imaging techniques, like ultrasound, CT scans, or MRI, are available that might be better for some of these specific issues.
The Cost of X-ray and Associated Costs
The cost of x-rays for your dog is dependent on many factors. The cost can vary wildly between different veterinary offices, locations, and types of x-rays. In the U.S. x-rays will cost between $80-$150 per image. Globally, you can expect to pay €60-€160 in the United Kingdom or €40-€80 per photo in the Netherlands. However, none of these price ranges include the costs of sedation or anesthesia, the cost of barium if needed, the cost of the vet visit, the cost of getting multiple photos (which is almost always necessary), or the cost of a specialist (like a radiologist) if necessary. The cost of sedation will vary on your dog’s size and cost $40-$180 on top of the cost of the x-rays. Emergency or after-hours care will often cost up to twice as much as the cost of care during regular business hours.
The cost of x-rays will also vary depending on your location. Urban areas with multiple offices are more likely to offer competitive rates than rural areas. However, large metropolitan areas with a higher cost of living overall will be more expensive than the cost in smaller cities.
It is possible to discuss the price with your veterinarian or shop around for better prices, but here are some more factors to consider.
Don’t waste time if your dog is in pain. If a traumatic event has occurred, or even if your dog has developed a limp suddenly, they are probably in a lot of pain. Dogs don’t have the ability to tell us how much pain they are in. If you think your dog is in pain, don’t prolong his or her suffering by spending days waiting to hear back from several veterinarians’ offices.
Cheaper is not always better. If you have a regular vet that you and your pet are comfortable with, discuss the price with them. So long as they can explain to you the reason that their prices might be more than others, it is probably worth the peace of mind for you and your dog to stick with someone you trust.
Ask Questions! Asking the right questions can help ensure that you are not paying for unnecessary items. The more you know, the more likely you will be to pay a fair price and get exactly what your dog needs.
- Ask why the cost is higher at this office than another one.
- Ask why the x-ray is necessary and ask how many images they will need to take.
- Ask about whether or not sedation is necessary.
- Ask to see an itemized list of the included costs. Use the itemized list to make sure that you aren’t paying for unnecessary supplies (like barium for a leg x-ray). You can also use the itemized list to make sure that you won’t be surprised with a separate cost for sedation that wasn’t included in the previous price.
If a vet is recommending that you pay for a bunch of tests to protect their liability in case of a mishap, you probably need to ask yourself if they are worthy of your trust.
Don’t be afraid to tell your vet that you have done your homework and have found better prices elsewhere to see if they are willing to adjust their prices accordingly. If necessary, you can also set up a payment plan, either with your vet’s office or with a company like Care Credit. If medication is necessary, make sure that your vet is using the generic version instead of the name brand. In some cases, it is safe and cheaper for vets to use medicine formulated for humans, but make sure to follow your vet’s instructions on this. If possible, schedule your appointment for earlier in the day so that you don’t have to pay after hours or overnight fees.
Generally speaking, when people refer to different types of x-rays they mean x-rays that are taken on different areas of the body. However, there is also a difference between digital and traditional x-rays. Traditional x-rays create a film photograph, while digital x-rays transfer this image to a digital file that can easily be shared among a group of specialists. Digital x-rays will cost more than traditional x-rays.
Abdominal X-rays- Abdominal x-rays are one of the most common x-rays for dogs. Abdominal x-rays are used to identify intestinal blockages, check for bladder stones, and can be used to identify tumors (depending on the placement of the tumor in relation to abdominal organs, it may or may not be visible on an x-ray). They are also commonly used to determine the number of puppies an expectant mother is carrying, but only after 45 days of pregnancy. Because they are relatively easy to capture, it is less likely for dogs to need sedation for an abdominal x-ray.
Chest X-rays- Chest x-rays are used to check for cancers and other diseases of the heart and lungs. If your pup has been through a traumatic event, like being hit by a car or falling from an extreme height, chest x-rays will be used to check for broken ribs or to see if air has gotten inside the chest cavity. Chest x-rays are relatively easy to capture, so long as the technician is able to move the legs, so it is unlikely that sedation will be required. However, barium may be used to highlight the esophagus or other internal organs, and the use of barium will be an additional cost.
Dental X-Rays- Dental x-rays are used to identify issues with the teeth and jaws. Unfortunately, these tend to be some of the most difficult x-rays because it is difficult to get the dog to keep their head still. Therefore, sedation might be required for dental x-rays and will influence the cost.
What to Expect
Is Sedation or Anesthesia Required?
Sedation and anesthesia during x-rays depend mainly on the type of x-ray and your dog’s personality.
Types of x-rays are based on what body part is of concern. The x-ray images will come out better if the animal is still. It is easier to get animals to stay still in certain positions. For example, if they are lying down on their back, they should be still enough for an x-ray of their abdomen. However, if the x-ray requires them laying in positions that are uncomfortable, it will be harder to get them to lay still, so sedation might be necessary. If the x-ray needs images of an internal organ, a muscle relaxer may make it easier for the x-ray to capture the image.
Your dog’s personality will also make it easier or more difficult. The x-ray itself does not cause pain, but the whole situation may cause anxiety for many animals. If you have an extremely anxious dog or a dog that tends to attack strangers, sedation may be necessary. Even if your dog is comfortable with your vet, it may not be comfortable with the x-ray technician or other staff members that will assist. If the dog is currently in pain, it might avoid sitting or lying in the necessary positions, so sedatives or anesthesia can help make your dog more comfortable.
Most often, x-rays can be done without the use of sedation or anesthesia. However, if sedation is necessary, it will be an additional cost that will depend on the size of your dog.
Before the X-ray – Preparing Your Dog for an X-ray
There should be very little preparation for the x-ray event. In some cases, your veterinarian will ask you to have your dog fast for a twelve-hour period before the x-ray. This fasting will reduce the stomach contents so that the vet can see past the stomach to other organs or to see if there is a blockage in the intestinal tract. In general, the best way that you can prepare your dog for an x-ray is to simply keep it as calm as possible.
The X-ray Procedure – Can I Stay with my Dog During the X-ray?
The x-ray procedure is similar for dogs and humans. First, your dog will be placed on a table that has a glass or plastic shield with the x-ray film underneath it. This may be confusing for some dogs because they are generally told not to climb on tables and furniture, but now they are being asked to. However, experienced technicians will be able to help your dog through this. Your dog will be positioned so that the necessary body part is visible. Specially made sandbags may be used to calm your dog and to encourage stillness or other restraint devices may be used to hold your dog in a particular position. The technician will move the x-ray beam into the correct placement above your dog. The technician will step away from your dog, but continue talking to it so that it stays calm and still. Then the technician will push a button for the image to be captured. This process may be repeated several times depending on how many images your vet needs.
You will most likely not be allowed to stay with your dog during the x-ray. In the United States, state laws indicate that owners are not allowed into the x-ray room. However, in cases where the dog is extremely anxious or difficult to restrain, the technician may ask the owner to assist in holding the dog in place during the x-ray. If this happens, the owner must be over 18, must wear protective garments, and must not be pregnant or nursing. The reason that protective garments must be worn is simply that the radiation required to capture an x-ray image of a dog is higher than the radiation used in human x-rays. However, this radiation is not dangerous to humans or dogs, unless there is repeated or prolonged exposure.
Are X-Rays Bad or Harmful to Dogs?
So long as your dog is not getting x-rays excessively often, they will be perfectly safe. In most cases, the benefits of diagnosing a health problem with an x-ray far outweigh the risks of radiation.
The one exception is pregnant dogs. X-rays are only safe for pregnant dogs after 45 days of pregnancy. After 45 days, it is common practice to use an x-ray to determine the number of puppies in a litter. However, x-rays are not the only method that can be used during pregnancy, and the other methods will not expose the puppies to potentially harmful radiation. If the purpose of the x-ray is just to count the number of puppies, it is probably not worth the risk. However, if there is a sign of trouble during or before birth, an x-ray will be beneficial to both the mother and the puppies.
Can I See My Dog’s X-Rays?
You should always be allowed to see your dog’s x-rays and most often your veterinarian will go over them with you to explain any information about your dog’s condition. However, x-rays are legally considered a part of a patient’s medical record, even when that patient is a dog. Therefore, the original x-ray photographs must legally stay in your dog’s patient file at their vet’s office. You can request a copy of the x-ray photographs, but an extra fee may be charged.
Other Kinds of Medical Imaging for Dogs
X-rays are the most common diagnostic tool for most vets, but they are certainly not the only ones available. Ultrasounds, MRI, and CT scans can all be used to focus more intensely on a specific body part.
Ultrasound- Ultrasounds project a harmless sound wave into your dog’s body. The sound waves bounce off different structures within your dog’s body and register a picture of the surfaces inside. Even though dogs’ sense of hearing is stronger than humans, these sound waves do not harm them. Ultrasounds can be used for reproductive purposes after 21 days of pregnancy. They can also be used to check internal organs such as the heart, liver, or lungs. As with x-rays, the cost of an ultrasound will vary depending on your vet’s office and the equipment they are using as well as the purpose of the ultrasound. They can range from $50-$500. It is a good idea to ask questions about certifications, equipment, and specialists so that you know exactly what you are paying for.
MRI- Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is a scan that produces detailed images of the body. MRI uses magnetic fields and radio-waves to produce a picture of internal organs. It is especially useful for diagnosing neurological conditions or spinal cord conditions. MRI requires specialty equipment that your local veterinarian will most likely not have access to. This equipment is usually only found in veterinary schools or advanced diagnostic centers. The scarcity of the equipment means that you need a referral from your vet to make an appointment, and it means a much higher cost. An MRI could cost up to $2500 per scan.
CT Scans- CT scans, also known as Cat Scans, take numerous x-rays rapidly. These series of x-rays can then be presented in cross-sections so that the vet can see a more focused picture of the specific body part. CT scans are mostly used for examining the most complex body parts like the head, chest, and joints. Just like the MRI, CT scan equipment is scarce and expensive. CT scans can also cost up to $2500 per scan and will require a referral before the appointment.