What Is A Cat X-Ray?

Disclaimer: The information presented below is for general informational & educational purposes only. Always consult with animal professionals in case of specific concerns.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at cat x-rays and discuss some common reasons veterinarians may recommend getting one done for your cat. 

Have you ever wondered what your cat’s skeleton might look like? What bones are inside Fluffy that allow her to move so gracefully and sleep so soundly? An x-ray can provide a window into your feline friend’s internal structure, revealing the framework that supports her body and allows her to prowl, pounce and play. Cat x-rays are a common diagnostic tool that veterinarians use to examine your pet’s health by producing images of any abnormalities or injuries underneath the skin and fur. In this post, we’ll explore what cat x-rays can show veterinarians and pet owners, as well as when they may be recommended as part of your cat’s preventative care or medical treatment plan.

What Is A Cat X-Ray?

A cat X-ray, or radiograph, is a diagnostic imaging technique that uses X-ray radiation to create detailed images of the internal structures of a cat’s body. X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation that can pass through soft tissues but are absorbed by denser materials, such as bones and organs. This differential absorption of X-rays produces images that help veterinarians assess the structure and condition of various body parts.

Here’s how the process typically works:

  • X-ray Machine: A specialized X-ray machine is used to generate X-ray beams.
  • X-ray Film or Digital Detector: The X-ray beams pass through the cat’s body and interact with the tissues. The X-rays that pass through are captured on a film or a digital detector placed on the other side of the cat.
  • Image Development: In traditional X-ray imaging, the exposed film is developed to produce a visible image. In digital X-ray, the captured data is processed electronically to create a digital image.
  • Interpreting the Image: The resulting X-ray image provides a two-dimensional view of the internal structures, including bones, organs, and soft tissues. Veterinarians use these images to diagnose various conditions or assess injuries.

When Is A Cat X-Ray Recommended?

A cat X-ray is typically recommended in the following scenarios:

  • Injury or Trauma: If a cat has been involved in a significant accident, such as a fall or vehicular collision, a radiograph can identify potential fractures or internal damage.
  • Unexplained Weight Loss: If a cat is losing weight without an apparent reason, an X-Ray can help diagnose possible internal health issues causing this.
  • Difficulty Breathing: An X-ray can reveal problems in the lungs and chest cavity that might be causing breathing difficulties.
  • Gastrointestinal Issues: If a cat is experiencing vomiting, diarrhea, or lack of appetite, an X-ray can detect blockages or abnormalities in the digestive tract.
  • Routine Checkups in Older Cats: Regular radiographs can help monitor the health of older cats, identifying potential age-related conditions early.
  • Before Surgery: An X-ray is often performed prior to surgery to provide a clearer understanding of the cat’s internal anatomy and to plan the surgical procedure efficiently.

File:Side stand´s cat radiography.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

How Is A Cat X-Ray Performed?

Performing a radiograph on a cat involves several steps, which are typically as follows:

Preparation: The cat is prepared for the X-ray procedure. This may involve removing any metal collars or tags which could interfere with the imaging. 

Sedation or Anesthesia: Depending on the cat’s condition and the area being X-rayed, sedation or anesthesia may be administered to ensure the cat remains still during the procedure.

Positioning: The cat is then positioned on the X-ray table. The position depends on the part of the body being examined.

Shielding: Necessary precautions are taken to shield the cat’s body parts that are not being X-rayed, to minimize exposure to radiation.

Taking the X-ray: The X-ray machine is then adjusted to the correct settings, based on the size of the cat and the part of the body being X-rayed. The X-ray is then taken.

Analysis: Once the radiograph is taken, it’s then examined by a veterinarian for any signs of disease or injury. Further diagnostic tests may be recommended based on the results.

Post Procedure Care: After the procedure, the cat is monitored until it fully recovers from the sedation or anesthesia, and then it’s usually allowed to go home.

Is Sedation Necessary For A Cat X-Ray?

It’s important to understand that sedate a cat for an X-ray largely depends on the cat’s temperament and the area of the body being examined. While some cats remain calm and still during the procedure, others may become anxious or fidgety, making it difficult to obtain clear images. In such cases, sedation can help ensure the cat remains still, thereby improving the quality of the X-ray and minimizing the cat’s stress. Sedation or anesthesia is also often necessary when imaging certain parts of the body that require the cat to hold an unnatural or uncomfortable position. However, every cat is unique, and the decision to use sedation is always made on a case-by-case basis, considering the cat’s overall health, age, and the nature of the suspected condition.

Are There Any Risks Associated With Cat X-Rays?

While cat X-rays are generally safe, some risks and potential complications are associated with them, including:

Radiation Exposure: Although the levels are relatively low, repeated exposure to X-ray radiation can potentially lead to a radioactive cat or other adverse effects.

Allergic Reaction to Contrast Dye: If a contrast dye is used during the X-ray, the cat might have an allergic reaction to it.

Risk from Anesthesia or Sedation: Some cats may experience adverse reactions to the anesthesia or sedation used. This could include allergic reactions, breathing problems, or changes in heart rate. 

Stress and Anxiety: Some cats could experience stress or anxiety due to the unfamiliar environment and procedure.

Misdiagnosis: While rare, there’s always a slight chance for a misdiagnosis since radiographs only provide a two-dimensional image.

Physical Discomfort: Some cats might experience discomfort, especially if they have to be positioned in an unnatural or uncomfortable position for the X-ray. 

How Long Does It Take To Get Results From A Cat X-Ray?

The timeframe to receive results from a cat X-ray can vary based on several factors. If the veterinarian is able to interpret the radiographs immediately, preliminary results may be available on the same day of the procedure. However, in complex cases, the X-rays might need to be evaluated by a specialist radiologist. This could potentially extend the waiting time to a few days. Always remember that accurate diagnosis is an essential step towards effective treatment. Therefore, while waiting for the results may be stressful, it is crucial for ensuring the best possible health outcomes for your feline friend.

Can A Cat X-Ray Detect All Types Of Health Issues?

While a cat X-ray is a valuable diagnostic tool, it is not capable of detecting all types of health issues. Here are some conditions that may not be clearly visible or detectable through an X-ray:

Microscopic Conditions: Diseases or conditions that affect the cat on a cellular level, such as certain types of cancer or infections, may not be visible on an X-ray.

Certain Cardiovascular Conditions: While an X-ray can reveal the size and shape of the heart, it may not accurately diagnose specific heart diseases or conditions. Further diagnostic tests like an echocardiogram may be required.

Hormonal Disorders: Conditions like hyperthyroidism or diabetes cannot be diagnosed with an X-ray, as they involve hormonal imbalances and require blood tests for diagnosis.

Neurological Conditions: Issues within the cat’s nervous system, including certain brain disorders or spinal cord diseases, may require more advanced imaging techniques, such as an MRI or cat CT scan.

Behavioral Disorders: Behavioral issues, such as anxiety or aggression, cannot be detected through an X-ray.

Genetic Disorders: Genetic conditions and certain congenital abnormalities may not be visible or detectable through an X-ray.

Hence, while X-rays are immensely useful in diagnosing a wide range of health issues in cats, they are not a comprehensive diagnostic tool for all types of diseases or conditions. Depending on the suspected condition, additional tests may be necessary for a complete and accurate diagnosis.

Read more: What Is A Hernia In Cats?

How Much Does A Cat X-Ray Typically Cost?

A cat X-ray cost can vary widely, depending on a number of factors such as the location of the veterinary clinic, whether it’s an emergency visit or a scheduled appointment, the number of views required, the use of anesthesia or sedation, and whether any additional diagnostic tests are needed. Typically, a basic cat X-ray can cost anywhere from $100 to $200. However, if anesthesia or sedation is required, the cost can increase significantly, possibly reaching up to $500. Complex procedures, like a contrast study, can further raise the price. It’s important to discuss the cost with your veterinarian prior to the procedure to avoid any unexpected expenses. Remember that while cost is a factor, the health and well-being of your feline friend should be a priority.

Do I Need To Make Any Special Preparations For My Cat Before An X-Ray?

Yes, there are a few preparations you might need to make for your cat before an X-ray procedure. Here is a list of some of them:

Fasting: Your vet may advise you to withhold food from your cat for several hours before the procedure, especially if sedation or anesthesia is to be used.

Hydration: Unless instructed otherwise, make sure your cat drink water until the time of the procedure.

Medication: If your cat is on any medication, consult with your vet whether to continue or stop them before the X-ray.

Comfort Object: Consider bringing a comfort object, like your cat’s favorite blanket or toy, to help reduce stress and entertain your cat.

Prepare Your Cat: If your cat is anxious about car rides or new environments, you may need to take steps to ease their anxiety. This can involve acclimating your cat to the carrier and car rides.

Medical Records: Ensure all your cat’s medical history and records are up to date and available for the vet to review before the procedure.

Questions for the Vet: Prepare a list of questions or concerns about the procedure to discuss with your vet beforehand.


In conclusion, cat x-rays are a vital tool in the diagnosis and treatment of feline health issues. From detecting fractures and foreign objects to identifying internal organs and abnormalities, these images provide valuable insight into the health of our beloved furry friends. Although the process can seem daunting for pet owners, it is essential to trust your veterinarian and ensure that your cat receives the care they need. And for those who may be hesitant about the cost or potential risks of x-rays, remember that early detection can save your cat’s life and prevent further complications down the road. So if you notice any changes in your cat’s behavior or suspect an injury or illness, don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian about a potential cat x-ray.