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Diagnostic Imaging

A further look into your pet's health

Diagnostic imaging is used to "look inside" your pet to help reach a diagnosis. X-rays and Ultrasound Scanning are routinely carried out at The Veterinary Hospital in Plymouth to investigate anything from a broken leg to a liver tumour. The resulting images help us to reach a diagnosis and help with deciding on the appropriate treatment for your pet.

X-rays are useful for examining the bones and joints, particularly. However they can also be used for looking at the chest and abdomen to diagnose heart disease or a foreign body in the stomach. Radiopaque dye is sometimes used to contrast with the surrounding structures and reveal more of the area that we are examining. Contrast studies are performed on the kidneys and bladder, the gastrointestinal tract, the vertebral canal and other areas when appropriate.

Ultrasound relies on listening to echoes from within the body using special electronic equipment. Ultrasound although not very useful for looking at bones and the lungs is helpful for looking inside abdominal organs like the liver and kidneys. Most ladies will be familiar with its use during pregnancy. Ultrasound provides us with moving images of what is happening inside the patient at the time of exam. This makes it very useful for examining the heart (called echocardiography), where measurements of heart function can be made.


Adam Coulson BVMS CertVR MRCVS is the Veterinary Surgeon in charge of imaging at the hospital. He has been with the practice since 1986 and obtained the Certificate in Veterinary Radiology in 1993.

Patient preparation

Most patients requiring diagnostic imaging are admitted to The Veterinary Hospital as day patients. Ultrasound examinations can sometimes be performed whilst the owner waits, e.g. routine pregnancy diagnosis. It will be necessary to clip some coat prior to ultrasound exams.

Please withhold food from 8:00 pm the previous day unless otherwise instructed. The presence of food in the stomach or intestine can lead to several problems. Animals undergoing investigations of the bowel may require a longer period of withholding food - please check with our staff.

We use comfortable positioning aids for X-ray but many pets will find the positions required uncomfortable and if injured, possibly painful. Health and Safety Legislation means that staff may not restrain the patient manually so that sedation or anaesthesia are often required for x-ray examinations. Ultrasound may be performed without sedation, depending upon the patient. However taking samples of tissue using ultrasound guidance may be dangerous in the "wriggling" animal.

Other tests performed at the same time e.g. blood tests may require specific preparation. If in any doubt please request that reception clarify details with Adam Coulson. He may be able to speak with you on the telephone prior to admission.

Pregnancy diagnosis

This can be carried out using ultrasound in both dogs and cats. The ideal time is between days 28 and 35 of pregnancy. Accuracy declines before day 28. An idea of the number of foetuses present can be obtained but is not exact. Gender is not determined. A patch of hair is clipped from the middle of the abdomen. Most animals tolerate this technique very well and examinations are normally performed with the owner present.


Some patients may require hospitalisation following imaging procedures e.g. myelography (contrast study of the spinal cord). Some procedures may carry a certain element of risk - this should be discussed with your veterinary surgeon. On occasion it may be appropriate to perform surgery at the time of examination if surgery is clearly the treatment of choice e.g. removal of bladder stones found on a urinary tract contrast study. We will require your consent for this.


The equipment that we are using is a major cost item to the practice and is paid for by client fees. We use a price list that covers most eventualities so an estimate can be given. However this will often be a range and may not always include treatment costs until the diagnosis can be made. If your pet is hospitalised please feel free to ask for an update on your account. We do recommend that clients consider a pet health insurance policy to cover unforeseen medical problems. Insurance can bring much peace of mind!