Contributors: Fraser McConnell

 Species: Canine   |   Classification: Miscellaneous



Radiographic considerations

  • Detail screens and film combinations should be used for most examinations.
  • A grid and fast screen may be required for examination of the humerus, pelvis and femur in large dogs.
  • A low kV high mAs technique maximizes contrast.
  • Due to geometric effects of the diverging beam radiography should be centered at the point of interest.
    For angular limb deformities separate radiographs of adjacent joints should be taken (in addition to the entire limb) to allow joint evaluation without geometric distortion.
  • Orthoganol views are required as significant pathology, eg fractures, luxation may be missed on a single view.
  • In examination of suspected joint instability, eg ligament injury, 'stressed' views may be helpful.
    This can be done by using sandbags and ties - manual restraint is not required.


  • Skeletal radiography usually requires sedation but some painful condition may require anesthesia to facilitate positioning.
  • In trauma patients evaluation and treatment of concurrent thoracic, abdominal or CNS injury should be undertaken before skeletal radiography.


It is important to remember that not all causes of lameness cause radiological changes.
  • A normal radiograph in a lame animal should prompt consideration of:
    • Incorrect localization of lameness - repeat clinical examiantion.
    • Soft tissue injury - reconsider differential diagnosis.
    • Neurological disease, eg brachial plexus neoplasia, prolapsed intervertebral disk (PIVD) - reconsider differential diagnosis.
    • Radiolucent foreign body in foot - repeat clinical examination.
    • Early bone or joint disease before development of bony changes - repeat examination 2-4 weeks later.


  • Investigation of:
    • Lameness.
    • Limb swelling.
    • Limb deformity.
    • Screening for hereditary orthopedic disease.
  • Survey radiography gives no information about articular cartilage in most cases.
    Bone has a limited response to injury (lysis and/or new bone formation), therefore it is important to assess location of lesion, signalment and general medical history.


If an unusual lesion (particularly mineralized bodies around a joint) it may be helpful to radiograph the contralateral limb as the lesion may be a normal anatomical variant.

  • A systematic approach to evaluating the radiograph is important to avoid missing lesions.
  • A bright light is essential to evaluate the soft tissues fully.
  • Interpretation of long bones can be divided into focal and diffuse changes.


  • Certain diseases only occur at certain parts of the bone.
  • Epiphyses, eg epiphyseal dysplasia, enchondrodysplasia of Pointer.
  • Metaphyses, eg metaphyseal osteopathy, craniomandibular osteopathy (rare), primary bone tumor (predilection site but do occur elsewhere).
  • Diaphyses, eg panosteitis Panosteitis and osteopetrosis.

Focal bone lesions

  • Usually lytic.
  • These can be divided into:
    • Polystotic (affecting multiple bones).
    • Monostotic (affecting a single bone), eg primary bone tumor, bone cyst.
  • Polystotic lesions are more likely with inflammatory, developmental disease, metastases or soft tissue tumor invading bone or infectious disease.
  • Try to differentiate benign from aggressive (based on margination, transition and periosteal reaction).
  • Benign lesions, eg cysts, benign neoplasia Bone benign tumor (osteochondroma) - radiograph :
    • Variable degree of lysis - usually well differentiated from adjacent bone.
    • Short transition zone to normal bone.
    • Periosteal reaction usually well demarcated, smooth, does not extend far from edge of lesion.
    • May be dense sclerotic rim of bone around sequestrum.
    • Cysts may be expansile with thin cortices.
    • Occur more in young dogs.

Diffuse bone lesions

  • Panosteitis Panosteitis - long bone, medullary centers Bone panosteitis (humerus) - radiograph.
    • Patchy increase in opacity within medullary cavity often centered on nutrient foramen Bone panosteitis radius - radiograph.
    • GSD predisposed.
    • Mainly young dogs but may be seen in older.
  • Craniomandibular osteopathy Craniomandibular osteopathy - primarily mandible and petrous temporal bone but may affect long bones in WHW and Cairn terriers.
    • Dense sclerotic new bone with massive cortical thickening along mandible Skull mandible craniomandibular osteopathy - radiograph lateral.
    • Skull changes are usually also seen when the disease affects long bones.
    • Collar of new bone surrounding metaphyses.
  • Erythrocyte pyruvate kinase deficiency in Basenjis.
    • Osteopetrosis.
  • Lead poisoning Lead toxicity.
    • Linear opacity in metaphyses.
  • Metaphyseal osteopathy Metaphyseal osteopathy - young skeletally immature dogs.
    • Transverse band of lysis around metaphyses initially Bone metaphyseal osteopathy (early) - radiograph.
    • Progresses to collar of new bone around metaphyses Bone metaphyseal osteopathy (late) - radiograph.
    • May result in premature growth plate closure.
  • Metaphyseal osteomyelitis - similar changes but without collar of periosteal bone and often assymmetrical.

Aggressive bone lesions

  • Often predilection site for primary bone tumor Bone: neoplasia at metaphyses of long bones.
  • Poorly marginated with long transition zone to normal bone Bone primary malignant tumor (distal radius) - radiograph.
  • Lysis often very extensive with severe cortical destruction.
  • Extensive periosteal new bone formation but poorly defined, spiculated or wispy bone in adjacent soft tissue.
  • Some primary tumors are predominantly lytic Bone tumor proximal humerus - radiograph.
  • May be moth-eaten appearance or permeative lysis.
  • Most soft tissue tumors arising from bone or arising in adjacent tissues tend to be predominantly lytic without soft tissue mineralization or extensive periosteal reaction.


  • Bone opacity, thickness and regularity of cortical trabecular pattern should be evaluated.
  • Radiography is insensitive for detecting demineralization.
    30-50% of calcium must be lost before it is visble radiographically.
  • Osteopenia Bone disuse osteopenia - radiograph lateral forearm may be diffuse and is recognized by:
    • A reduction in opacity of the bone.
    • Thinning of the cortices.
    • Coarse appearance to the trabeculae.
    • In some cases a double cortical line may be seen.
  • Diffuse osteopenia may be due to chronic non-weight-bearing lameness Bone disuse osteopenia - radiograph lateral forearm , nutritional Nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism and renal secondary hyperparathyroidism Skull renal secondary hyperparathyroidism - radiograph lateral oblique Renal secondary hyperparathyroidism , rickets Bone rickets - radiograph lateral.


  • Important to assess soft tissues carefully for evidence of gas or foreign material within soft tissues that indicate an open fracture.
  • Two orthogonal projections are mandatory to evaluate extent of the lesion Tibia spiral fracture - radiograph lateral Tibia spiral fracture - radiograph CrCd.
  • The age of fracture can be assessed by examining margination of fracture edge (sharp in recent fracture Bone fracture healing (1st stage) - radiograph lateral tibia becoming rounded with resorption Bone fracture healing (2nd stage) - radiograph lateral antebrachium ), periosteal bone formation Bone fracture healing (3rd stage) - radiograph lateral antebrachium (appears around 7-10 days), callus formation is more extensive in very young animals compared to adults.


  • The soft tissues should be examined for evidence the swelling or bulging of fascial planes that may indicate soft tissue pathology or joint effusion.
  • Atrophy of muscle may be appreciated but generally reflects chronic lameness, neurogenic atrophy or endstage of myositis.
  • It is easiest to evaluate soft tissue by comparison of a limb with its contralateral partner.


  • Nutrient foramen may mimic incomplete fractures Bone antebrachium normal - radiograph lateral but can be distinguished because:
    • Usually occur in predictable site.
    • Show no periosteal reaction.
    • Are bilaterally symmetrical.
  • Sesamoid bones may be mistaken for extra- or intra-articular bodies.
  • Failure to take orthoganol views can result in missing serious pathology, eg luxated limbs may appear normal on one projection.

Additional studies


  • Can be useful for localizing lesion to a particular area.
  • Provides poor anatomical or pathological detail therefore only directs investigation to a particular location.