At present, equine vets have access to various advanced imaging technology, which helps them pinpoint and identify problems.

Not all modern imaging technologies are harmless. Vets try to avoid side effects but sometimes have to use them in exceptional cases when there is no alternative.

As you already know from the title “why is ultrasound better than X rays” we have already made a deduction. But how did we do it? Let’s dive deep.

Ultrasound vs X rays

I know. I know we all want to know how Ultrasound beats X-ray. But before we do it, let me take a brief detour.

What is the detour about? Oh, we are going to learn about Ultrasound and X-rays. Not like learning as in school (falls asleep imagining it). But having a basic understanding of both Ultrasound and X-rays.

If you are still not bored and still want to continue, let’s know more about the epic battle of Ultrasound vs X-rays

Radiographs (X-rays):

A radiograph, also commonly known as an X-ray, uses a certain type of radiation to produce black-and-white, two-dimensional images. In equines, X-ray images help the equine vets see the inside of the horse’s body. 

The X-ray radiation passes through the body of the horse and lands on an X-ray film. The X-ray film remains connected to a computer.

Denser tissues present in the horse’s body, such as bones, appear white on the X-ray image. Less dense areas in the body, such as air in the lungs, appear as black on the X-ray image. 

The primary purpose of getting an X-ray done is to diagnose bone fractures in equines. However, X-rays also allow us to look at the shape of the heart or lungs or foreign objects and accumulated fluid inside the body.

Is X-ray Cheaper?

X-rays cost way less than any other digital imaging technology, so the vet often request X-rays before any other digital imaging. The X-ray radiation can harm the horse or the person holding the horse over time. Thus, too much or too often X-ray radiation is not at all healthy.

X-rays work adequately well for dense body structures like lungs and bones. However, X-ray radiations often miss things when the density of the structure is similar to the other surrounding tissues. 

Sometimes, professional equine vets inject the horses with a contrast medium or chemical to make certain parts more visible on an X-ray report.


Unlike X-rays or radiographs, ultrasounds do not use radiation on horses. Instead of radiation, ultrasounds use sound waves to produce images of the organs inside a horse’s body. 

Ultrasound radiation is entirely painless, so there is no need to inject any sort of anaesthesia or sedative inside the horse’s body.

In addition, ultrasound radiation imaging displays various details that are not visible in radiography imaging, such as organs in a horse’s abdomen. However, ultrasound imaging does not work well when passed through air or dense structures like bones. 

Due to this, most vets use ultrasound imaging and X-rays to get a better idea of the horse’s health.

Equipment used in ultrasound imaging is quite expensive; thus, this equipment is more likely available in larger clinics only. In a few countries, vets use a portable ultrasound machine to transfer it to clinics without them quickly.

Why Is Ultrasound Better Than X rays? 

A common question we get is, “Why is ultrasound better than X rays?”. Well, there are quite a few reasons why we consider ultrasound better than X-rays. These reasons are:

  • X-ray radiation is harmful, while ultrasound radiation is safe:

As we mentioned before, excess exposure to X-ray radiation is harmful to both the equine and the person holding it. Vets must not perform X-rays on pregnant equines as unborn children are sensitive to these sorts of radiations.

On the other hand, ultrasound imaging of an equine is safe as it uses sound waves and is not harmful. As we have established, ultrasound radiation is a sound wave; thus, it is safe for pregnant equines.

  • Ultrasound Radiation imaging provides more details than X-rays:

Both ultrasound and x-rays are crucial digital imaging technologies, and both are essential for veterinary treatments. While an X-ray focuses on the bones, lungs, and gas-filled organs, an ultrasound focuses on the internal details of the organs.

Ultrasound is way accurate and useful when it comes to diagnosing heart, soft tissues, fluid build-up, and so on. 

  • Abnormal Fluid Accumulation Detection:

Radiography cannot identify soft tissues and fluids as different entities as both have the same radiographic density. However, ultrasound radiation can easily recognise fluids and distinguish them from soft tissues such as the spleen and liver.

Although the presence of fluids in the body downgrades the value of the X-ray images, ultrasound uses it to its advantage.

Fluid in the body allows the ultrasound radiation to travel faster and enable vets to evaluate the deep positioned organs. This advantage enables ultrasound imaging to identify potential reasons behind fluid accumulation like pericardial effusion and hemoabdomen.

  • Identify Abnormal Abdominal Organs:

Ultrasound imaging allows the vets to examine the internal organ structures of a horse. If there is an abnormal growth of mass in an organ, the chances of it being identified through X-ray is low.

However, ultrasound radiation imaging creates cross-sectional imaging of an organ. These cross-sectional images allow the vets to study, measure, and monitor progression and response to therapy of these organs.

  • Identification of Heart Diseases:

One of the most common applications of ultrasound imaging is cardiac studies or echocardiography. In echocardiography, vets examine the blood flow, cardiac chambers, and functions of the heart and valves. Radiography can identify whether a heart is enlarged or not, but it cannot identify the reasons behind it.

On the other hand, ultrasound radiation reports present detailed information about the heart and allow vets to provide life-saving treatment on time. Doppler effect in ultrasound radiation plays a significant role in identifying heart diseases in an equine. 

  • Soft Tissues in the Musculoskeletal System in an Equine:

Ultrasounds provide a better and more accurate report about the soft tissues in the musculoskeletal system than an X-ray report. Ultrasound can easily identify any tears in the ligaments and tendons of muscles. Ultrasound phenomenally detects the healing state of soft tissues, something radiography cannot detect.

Vets also use Ultrasound to examine the joints and structures of the bones in an equine. Ultrasound effortlessly detects degenerative joint diseases and periarticular osteophytes.

Ultrasound provides more detail and is safer than X rays. From here you should get the answer to why is ultrasound better than X rays.

Difference between CT Scan and X-ray

We receive another common question: “What is the difference between CT scan and X-ray?”. Even though the difference between CT scan and X-ray is nothing too big, it is still significant. Vets use X-rays to detect dislocations and fractures in bones as well as pneumonia and cancers in equines.

However, CT scans are the advanced version of an X-ray that vets use to detect and diagnose injuries in the internal organs. As we know, radiography often fails to detect problems related to muscle damage, body organs, and soft tissues. But with a CT scan, we can easily diagnose these problems as x-ray images come in 2D while CT scan images are in 3D.

The CT scan machine rotates on an axis and clicks multiple images of a body from various angles in 2D. The computer connected to the machine then places all the cross-sectional 2D images together on the screen. This results in a 3D image of the inside of the horse’s body and reveals the presence of any injuries or diseases.

If you are left wondering how you can find a local vet with all the necessary equipment, then check out this blog on “10 Ways to find good vets in your area”

Bottom Line:

We now have the answer to “Why is ultrasound better than X rays?” and know the difference between CT scan and X-ray. More and more of your local equine vets are investing in ultrasound equipment due to its diagnostic and problem identifying capabilities. 

With the continuous evolution of medical science, we can easily say that digital imaging technologies will undergo more improvements in the future. For expert equine veterinary services, contact Clarendon Equine.