Top Questions Pet Owners Should Ask About Pet X-Rays, According to SignalPET’s Dr Neil Shaw

The bond between humans and their pets is stronger than ever, with 97% of US pet owners agreeing that their pets are part of the family, according to a survey by Pew Research Center. Furthermore, a majority (51%) of pet owners say that their pets are as important a part of their family as a human member. This means that, just like they would spare no expense in medical treatment for their spouse or child, they would do the same for their canine or feline family members.

According to Dr Neil Shaw, DVM, DACVIM, medical founder and chief veterinary officer of veterinary technology company SignalPET, the increased investment in the human-pet relationship is accompanied by increased commitment to better healthcare and increased financial commitments. This is reflected by the fact that veterinary expenses grew by almost 11% from 2021 to 2022, reaching $136.8 billion.

One of the most common veterinary procedures is the X-ray or radiograph. Unlike most human patients, pets cannot communicate in words how they feel, which is why veterinarians prescribe X-rays and other procedures to give a better picture of what’s wrong with the patient.

Dr Shaw says that there are several questions pet families should ask their veterinarian whenever their pet needs to undergo an X-ray. These include how much it would cost, and if the veterinarian would be the one interpreting it. If the veterinarian won’t be the one interpreting the X-ray, then the family should ask if they can choose to have the result read by a different veterinary professional or using artificial intelligence.

“We want pet families to realize that when they go to veterinarians, they are consumers, and, as consumers, they have rights,” Dr Shaw says. “Sometimes, a veterinarian says they aren’t able to interpret a radiograph’s result, so they refer patients to specialists, which could cost hundreds of dollars. Families should know that there are more options available in regards to radiography, and should feel comfortable to ask their veterinarians.They can shop around with other practices to get X-ray films interpreted, as well as ask the veterinarian if they use what has become now accepted as common practice – using advanced artificial intelligence to get a second opinion on the films rather than spending a large sum of money.”

SignalPET’s technology harnesses the power of AI and machine learning to comprehensively and objectively scan pet X-rays and help detect abnormalities in the pet’s body, acting as a second set of eyes. AI can decipher digital images and detect abnormalities in real time and more comprehensively than humans, providing reliable results on more than 60 radiographic test results instantly. It looks at every film in its entirety, every time, preventing human-linked errors such as “tunnel vision” or subjectivity. Each time the technology is used, the machine learning system improves, resulting in more data that benefits veterinarians everywhere.

SignalPET’s offering includes full body X-ray interpretation; they provide AI-powered radiology test panels for most common clinical findings at a more affordable cost. They also offer services which incorporate human interpretation and the pet’s medical history, providing veterinary clinicians with important information. SignalPET also provides a specialized program that focuses on pet dental X-rays. Since 2018, the company has reviewed more than 9 million X-ray scans for around 3 million pets, detecting more than 150 million abnormalities. Several thousand veterinary clinics worldwide have adopted SignalPET’s solutions, enabling quicker diagnosis and lowering veterinary costs.

Dr. Shaw underscores the importance of requesting a comprehensive report each time a pet undergoes an X-ray for several compelling reasons. Firstly, for legal purposes, having a report on hand is essential in case any legal issues arise in the future, ensuring that pet owners have all the necessary documentation to protect their beloved companions. Secondly, obtaining the X-ray report is invaluable if pet owners decide to seek a second opinion from another veterinarian. It provides a crucial foundation for informed consultations and ensures that pets receive the best possible care. Lastly, retaining the X-ray report is essential for future reference. Whether it’s for follow-up treatments or if a different veterinarian takes over the care of the pet, having this report readily available offers a valuable historical record that can aid in making informed decisions about their health and well-being.

Dr Shaw says that there is a worrying trend of consolidation in the veterinary industry in North America. Large companies are buying up independent veterinary practices left and right, giving these companies the power to dictate prices and best practice in veterinary care which results in expensive service but not necessarily a higher quality of care.

“I was previously the medical founder of the largest specialty network in the US. I saw from the inside how prices were fixed and how corporations operate,” says Dr Shaw. “It’s really challenging for independent veterinarians and pet families, as costs continue to rise and a high standard of care becomes more inaccessible for the average American. We want pet families to know that SignalPET exists, and that it is a quicker and more cost-effective solution to pet radiograph interpretation. They should ask their vet if they use SignalPET and, if they don’t, suggest that their vet utilize the service to provide even better care.