How to Read a Radiograph (X-Ray)

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This is a fun section designed to test your diagnostic abilities. Periodically we will show new x-rays (the proper word is radiograph) for you to test your skills, so remember to come back and see what new rads (that is the slang word we sometimes use) are posted on our site.

Look at each x-ray closely (sometimes very closely) and see if you can figure out what is wrong. We have a couple of clues to help you make an interpretation:

  • Use symmetry when you can. Compare both sides, legs, or whatever else that might be useful.
  • Pull your face away from the screen and scan the whole x-ray before you jump into the details.
  • After you have scanned the whole radiograph look very closely for subtle changes.

Normal X-Rays

This is a radiograph of the abdomen of a normal cat that is laying on its right side. The head is towards the left. Use the diagram below to identify the organs. You can click on each image to see a closeup view.

You can easily see the liver (L), stomach (S) kidneys (K) , the small intestines (SI), the large intestine (LI), the urinary bladder (UB), and the Spleen (Sp). The arrow points to stainless steel sutures in the muscle layer from a spay operation.

Abnormal X-Ray

This dog is having a difficult time urinating. Can you tell what is wrong?

This diagram might help

The bladder is huge, because this dog is having a difficult time urinating. It is probably due to nerve dysfunction, since the spinal cord has changes called spondylosis. The circle point this out.

You can learn more about this problem, called spondylosis, from our arthritis page

Notice anything on this pet?

You can see the circle around the numerous stones (called calculi) in the urinary bladder

Did you also notice the stones in the kidney and pelvic urethra?

Our web page on bladder stones has lots of good information
This cat is labeled for you. Anything fishy?

Did you see the pellet in the neck? Look again at the radiograph above, its plain as day.

Anything going on with this dog’s front legs?

The distal radius and ulna are fractured

Do you see it on the side view?

You can see the soft tissue swelling towards the top of the circle in addition to the fractures

Lets pick a hawk and see what we can find. The two pellets are obvious.

Did you see the fractured ulna? Its similar to the dog above

How should this be handled? You can see what we did in our Wildlife Page

Now that you are an expert at reading radiographs give the following one a try. It is from a cat that is straining to urinate and has blood in its urine. The answer is below, along with a picture with arrows pointing to the abnormalities.

This cat has 2 stones in its urinary bladder (click here to learn more about them and see a surgery of how they are removed). The stones are radiopaque, which means they show up easily on the radiograph. Some bladder stones are radiolucent, and can only be seen by injecting dye or air into the urinary bladder.Did you also notice the 4 small white spots on the initial x-ray. They are stainless steel sutures put into the muscle after the cat was spayed. It is a perfectly normal and common finding in female cats, as a matter of fact, it lets us know on stray female cats that they have been spayed.

Pretty easy so far, huh? Don’t get too confident just yet, our next few are a little harder. Look over the next few abnormal radiographs and send us an e-mail with your answer. If you aren’t sure and just need some clues e-mail us also and we will help you. Good Luck!

Abnormal X-Ray #1

This radiograph is an abdomen view from a very sick cat. It is 13 years old and losing weight

Abnormal X-Ray #2

This cat has a breathing problem. It wheezes and easily loses its breath.

Abnormal X-Ray #3

This cat is laying on its back just like the one diagrammed above. If you need to review the normal anatomy scroll back up. This cat was brought in depressed, dehydrated, and not eating.

Abnormal X-Ray #4

This cat is laying on its back also. It has the same symptoms as the cat in the picture directly above.

Abnormal X-Ray #5

This cat is laying on its side. It has a problem with something in its intestinal tract. As a clue, do you see the normal organs like kidney and stomach?