Your cat begins limping; she may even hide or let out a cry when you attempt to move her -- it’s time for a vet visit. One of the first things your veterinarian will want to do is X-ray her leg(s) to get a clear picture of what’s causing her pain.
Before the X-ray
Your vet will assess your kitty’s condition before proceeding with an X-ray. In the event of acute trauma, she may need pain medication before proceeding with radiographs. Certain conditions that require leg X-rays, such as saddle thrombus, are much more urgent than a chronic limp. Saddle thrombus is a life-threatening blood clot that has lodged itself in a small artery that supplies blood to her hind limbs. Some of the signs of this condition include panting, coldness in the affected limb and inability to stand or walk. If your vet suspects saddle thrombus as the cause of your cat’s leg pain, he’ll likely quickly administer an IV catheter with pain medication and whisk her off for immediate X-rays to confirm.
Full anesthesia is rarely needed when performing X-rays on a cat’s legs, however, your cat may need some form of sedative before the procedure can begin. It all depends on your individual cat and her injury. Cats are very prone to stress, and this stress can lead to shock and even heart failure. It’s important to keep your kitty as calm as possible. Of course, some cats are inherent lap kitties and take any sort of handling as a sign of affection. These cats probably won’t need a sedative. However, some leg X-rays, such as those involving the hips, require sedation regardless of temperament. It’s imperative your cat remain perfectly motionless during hip X-rays, therefore a light sedative is necessary.
Taking the Radiograph
Specialized equipment is used to take and develop X-rays. The first step is measuring the area in question, in this case your cat’s leg(s), and setting the exposure time on the X-ray machine accordingly. For most leg X-rays the cat lies on her side, but for hip radiographs she must be on her back with her legs outstretched. Once the machine is set and the cat is in position, the actual X-ray only takes a few seconds. Invisible X-rays pass from the radiograph machine, through your cat’s tissue, and onto the film below. This creates a picture of the inside of your cat’s leg. Your vet will likely want at least two views of the area in order to accurately diagnose the problem.
Developing the X-rays is one of the most delicate parts of the process. It involves minute details, such as proper chemical temperature and proper time. If the film is left to develop for too long the X-rays may be too dark; too short and the X-rays will be far too light for accurate analysis. It’s similar to working in a dark room if you’re familiar with photography. The entire process can take anywhere from five to 20 minutes depending on a number of variables, such as freshness of chemicals, size of radiographs and temperature in the room.
Your veterinarian will examine your cat’s bones, tissue and fluid in the X-rays once they have developed and dried sufficiently. He’ll discuss treatment options for your kitty once he has reached a diagnosis.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Christina Stephens is a writer from Portland, Ore. whose main areas of focus are pets and animals, travel and literature. A veterinary assistant, she taught English in South Korea and holds a BA in English with cum laude honors from Portland State University.