Diagnostic imaging.

CT scan.

CT or computed tomography (also known as a CAT scan) uses rotating x-rays around your pet to take cross-sectional images. CT machines are able to take hundreds of images in a very short amount of time. These images can be two or three-dimensional and give much more detail than traditional x-rays. Radiologists often use CT scans to look at the chest, nose, bones, joints and abdomen.

We upgraded the CT at our Cary hospital in October of 2015. The new addition is a 16 slice GE Lightspeed, with all the bells and whistles. This unit aids us in many different ways with several examples listed below.

  • Formerly all pets were fully anesthetized for CT exams. The higher speed of our new CT will allow sedated exams in certain cases with the decision being dependent on the patient’s disease and stability.
  • Higher quality reconstructed images and thinner image slices will allow precise definition of small abnormalities and give our specialists increased confidence in what to expect during surgery.
  • Advanced contrast studies improve ability to diagnose vessel abnormalities such as vascular shunts and increase diagnostic gain in specific lesions such as liver and pancreatic tumors.

Reasons why your pet may require a CT scan.

  • To better examine abnormalities in the chest or abdomen
  • To clarify abnormalities seen on x-rays or ultrasound in any body part
  • To study cancerous masses allowing for measurement of size, identification of precise location in regards to surrounding tissues and assess for spread of disease
  • To diagnose and treat spinal problems such as disc disease, tumors or trauma
  • To assess bone abnormalities or trauma in fine detail
  • To guide biopsies or aspiration of masses or tumors
  • To assist with surgical planning
  • To study blood vessels
  • To add precision to your pet’s radiation therapy treatments

What to expect when your pet has a CT scan.

Veterinary technicians will take your pet to the room where we perform CT scans. The CT scan typically lasts between 15-30 minutes once the patient is positioned on the table. The patient needs to be absolutely still during the scan necessitating sedation or general anesthesia to ensure the images are free of any motion artifacts (blurry images).

Food and water are withheld from the patient using the same guidelines as any other patient undergoing anesthesia. We will give you full instructions to prepare for the scan based on medications your pet may be taking, time of the appointment, etc. We have comprehensive monitoring equipment and trained nurses to carefully monitor your pet’s vital signs before, during and after the procedure.

We will monitor your pet in the hospital after the scan as they will be initially groggy. Your pet will probably urinate a large amount due to the intravenous fluids given during the scan. If your pet returns home the day of the scan, we ask that you only feed small amounts until the full effects of the anesthesia are no longer present. Aftereffects should all be gone within 24 hours.

We will communicate the results of your pet’s scan to you and to your primary care veterinarian and will work with you to create a plan for ongoing care or treatment.


Cross-sectional advanced imaging with MRI offers many benefits. In veterinary medicine, it is most often used to examine the brain and spinal cord to look for abnormalities that may cause neurologic signs such as seizures, blindness, or weakness of the limbs. Some of these abnormalities are treated surgically and others are treated medically.

Our radiology department will interpret the MRI images and partner with our other services including neurology, surgery and oncology, to come up with the best plan for each patient. MRI is available in our Cary location.

Ultrasound (abdominal, thoracic, musculoskeletal, thyroid/parathyroid).

Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to look inside your pet’s body at the soft tissue structures without having to perform surgery. The ultrasound machine sends sound waves into your pet’s body and then listens for the echoes. The machine interprets these echoes to form a picture of the inside of your pet’s body.

Ultrasound will not harm your pet and provides valuable information. Our radiologists use ultrasound to examine internal organs for shape, location, size, texture and blood supply. Coupled with other imaging, bloodwork and specialist input, ultrasound is a powerful and versatile diagnostic tool.

Possible reasons your pet may need an ultrasound:

  • Change in urinary habit
  • Prolonged vomiting or diarrhea
  • Abnormal blood work
  • Chronic infection
  • Weight loss
  • Cancer staging
  • Fluid in the chest or abdomen
  • Pre-surgical work-up
  • Recheck of a previous problem
  • Endocrine disease
  • Lameness
  • Non-invasive tissue sampling
  • Therapeutic injection or cyst ablation

What to expect when your pet has an ultrasound.

One of our veterinary technicians will take your pet to the ultrasound room. Unfortunately, we don’t allow owners to accompany pets during their ultrasound exam, but we promise to make your pet as comfortable as possible. Because sounds waves don’t like to travel through hair, we will have to shave the area of your pet being scanned. The ultrasound probe needs as much contact with your pet’s skin as possible. Your pet will be gently restrained during the exam by one of our veterinary technicians who will also make sure your pet receives plenty of reassuring rubs. Pets may rest on their back or side on a padded surface for the ultrasound exam.

Occasionally a pet will require sedation. Our radiologist will apply a warm, water-based gel and a small amount of pressure to the area being scanned.

Typically, exams take 20-30 minutes to complete in order to get the best images. However, some exams may take longer. If the exam is going to take longer than anticipated, we will make sure your pet has a chance to stretch and wiggle around.

Once the exam is complete, our radiologist will discuss the results and what next steps need to be taken next. Whether other departments at our hospital are brought in or additional tests recommended, we will communicate everything to you and to your primary care veterinarian.

Hands-free radiology.

Why are we asking about sedation? Know that your pet’s safety and comfort are always our first priority. Sometimes sedation is in their best interest. Many people are anxious about going to the dentist and find it helpful to utilize mild sedation to make it a less stressful experience, even if they know they are just getting their teeth cleaned. Imagine you are a dog getting an x-ray and don’t understand what is happening.

Sedation can be used for pets for a variety of reasons, including helping to take x-rays and to perform ultrasounds. Getting x-rays can be scary for some pets. They are in a dark, unfamiliar room with a machine that makes strange noises. They also need to stay still in a position that allows for high-quality x-rays that can give us the answers we need to help your pet.

We use various techniques to help make this less stressful for our patients, sometimes including sedation. Not every pet will need sedation. Please know that if your pet would benefit from sedation, it does not mean they are a naughty pet.

What is hands-free radiology?

BluePearl has adopted a policy to be ahead of the curve on limiting human exposure to radiation during x-rays. Traditionally in veterinary medicine pets have been held down by nursing staff for x-rays. We are using the modern approach of hands-free radiology to protect our team from unnecessary radiation exposure. This may involve the use of sedation to help keep patients relaxed for their x-rays. We appreciate your support in helping us protect our staff and keep your pet comfortable.

What do I need to know about sedation in my pet?

For most pets, we can use the mild sedative butorphanol to accomplish what we need to. This medication is safe enough that it is routinely used on patients in heart failure or respiratory distress. It is typically short-acting, although every pet processes medications differently and you may notice some sedation. Other pets and some procedures require heavier types of medications.

Administration of any medication can come with some risk. We closely monitor sedated patients for any side effects and treat them accordingly. For the majority of patients, mild lingering sedation may be seen and it is common for them to get a little more sleepy when they get home in their familiar environment.

Our doctors will use their best judgment to determine the most appropriate type and dose of sedation for your pet. We strive to use the lowest dose of medications possible and always consider any known medical conditions when choosing sedation. We also have specialists with board certification in anesthesia, analgesia and critical care who are extensively trained in these medications and can help with these decisions — our doctors understand how to choose the best sedation for even the sickest patient.