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Vet Blog Looks at Some X-Rays

X-rays are invisible, so it's not possible to look at them. Technically the images in this post are called radiographs, but most people call them...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Aug 17th 2010

X-rays are invisible, so it’s not possible to look at them. Technically the images in this post are called radiographs, but most people call them X-rays. The Vet Blog isn’t about pedantism, so I’ll use the terms interchangeably (albeit inappropriately) in this post.

And now, our first case study. A client rushed her cat to my office after noticing that the cat was chewing on and swallowing thread. The owner was worried that a needle may have been attached to the thread. Here are radiographs of the cat’s chest and a portion of the abdomen (click the images for a larger view). A vet, vet tech or vet student should be able to find two abnormalities. How many can you find? (Note to pros: I was worried about the potential for an esophageal foreign body. Therefore the radiographs are not properly positioned abdominal studies.)


Believe it or not, the first thing that caught my eye when I saw these radiographs was the cat’s dental abscess (red circle below; again, click each image for a much larger view). However, another abnormality cannot be ignored: there is a needle in the cat’s stomach (yellow circle; the eye of the needle is clearly visible in the larger images on the right). The cat went to a specialist in the morning for endoscopy.


If you allow your cat to go outside, I hope the next case will convince you to keep him inside. Sadly, a vet preaching about keeping cats inside is, in my experience, about as effective as a physician railing against smoking. Every owner of an outdoor cat seems convinced that nothing bad will happen to his cat. That’s what the owner of the cat involved in our second case thought until he came to my office.

The cat went outside and then disappeared for five days. When he finally came home he was no longer able to use his right rear leg.


It shouldn’t take a veterinarian to notice that the cat has a compound fracture of the right femur. The injuries were consistent with vehicular trauma (the cat appeared to have been hit by a car). I recommended referral to a specialist in orthopedic surgery. In the end the leg was amputated.

If your cat goes outside, please don’t act surprised when something like (or much worse than) this happens.


And now for our third case. A dog was brought to my office after four hours of discomfort and unsuccessful attempts to vomit. Physical exam revealed a distended abdomen and intense discomfort.

Vets, techs, and vet students should be able to identify multiple abnormalities.


The dog had a collapsed disc with subsequent arthritis in her spine (red circle; a similar lesion is seen to the left of the red circle). A second segment of spine had arthritis with an essentially normal disc space (yellow circle). Tragically, these were the least of her problems. The radiograph also shows a textbook example of gastric dilatation with volvulus–also known as bloat (blue square).

A majority of dogs survive bloat with surgical intervention. Sadly, this one did not.