You’ve positioned your feline patient for the perfect x-ray shot… The cat is friendly and cooperative as your staff stretches her to take an abdominal view… Then, as you a team member presses the exposure button, the x-ray machine starts humming… The cat starts wiggling… and she twists out of position just in time to ruin the shot.
Veterinary team and cat alike get frustrated as more views are taken to get a usable, non-blurry image. While this scenario is common, fortunately there are some effective strategies for keeping patients calm and compliant, and getting the radiographic images you need to make a diagnosis.
Use Appropriate Patient Restraint for Faster Views Without Motion Blur
Motion artefact is one of the most common causes of non-diagnostic x-ray images in veterinary medicine. Even small patient movements can blur important details, making an image difficult to read. Using chemical or physical restraint methods—or both methods together—can help minimize motion blur, making x-rays clearer and more accurate for interpretation.
Chemical restraint involves the use of sedation, or possibly anesthesia if appropriate for that patient (for example, a pre- or post-surgical view). The decision to use chemical restraint is based on the patient’s overall health, level of fear or pain, anesthesia/sedation risks, and any other factors that may make them an ideal or poor candidate for chemical restraint.
Physical restraint may mean physical props (sandbag positioning aids, tape, etc.) or a staff member physically holding the pet to restrain them, or both. While chemical restraint methods are gaining favor, there may be instances when gentle physical restraint is all that’s needed, especially if a patient isn’t healthy enough for full sedation.
Chemical and physical restraint often work well in combination for effective shots and patient safety—for example, using sandbags in addition to sedation for a patient, so they don’t suddenly wake up and try to jump down from the table if startled.
Maximizing Patient Comfort Is Not Only Compassionate—It Also Improves X-Ray Image Quality
It’s no surprise that a painful patient might not want to hold still for their x-rays, whether it’s a panicked dog who’s just been hit by a car, or an arthritic cat whose legs and back hurt when they’re stretched into position. Thankfully, there are simple methods to reduce pain—and even to improve comfort in patients who are not painful, but who are just uncomfortable lying on an x-ray table. Pain relief is an important step for any patient who needs it—for compassionate patient care, minimizing a patient’s stress, and decreasing the likelihood of a patient struggling or being wiggly. Pain management may be a component of sedation, and may also include meds like NSAIDs if appropriate. For painful and non-painful patients alike, another good strategy is to think about the experience from their perspective and try to keep them as comfortable as possible. For example, many patients don’t appreciate lying on their back on a cold x-ray table. Adding a trough for comfort can make these pets more likely to relax and hold still for their “pictures.”
A Calm Environment Minimizes Stress for Everyone—And Reduces Patient Movement
Foot traffic, conversations, opening and closing doors, and any other noises might make a dog or cat nervous—so much so that they move around and turn to see what’s making the noise. Maybe you’ve been in this situation before… You’re trying to position a patient for an x-ray. Then the door swings open as a fellow team member comes in for supplies. With the open door, conversations from the hallway seem much louder, too. Your patient, who is probably nervous already, notices all these sounds and tries to stand up.
A good way to minimize these occurrences is to have a dedicated x-ray suite that’s not in a high traffic area. If that’s not possible in a smaller clinic, ask staff to stay out of the room until the x-ray study is complete, if possible. It may be helpful to place a sign on the door.
Background noise, such as calming music, may also help drown out background sounds of hospital personnel, clients, and pets. Soothing background sounds can also help mask the noise of the x-ray machine itself—something that’s been known to startle or distract nervous pets.
Radiographic studies don’t have to be frustrating. By implementing these strategies, veterinarians and veterinary team members may find that not only do images look better (less blurry, with better alignment), but the experience is also more comfortable for patients and staff alike. Try using restraint, patient comfort techniques, and a calm environment, and see how these things help you take excellent quality x-rays, with less frustration and more efficiency.