Radiology Safety in the Veterinary Field

Radiology is a critical diagnostic tool in veterinary medicine, providing essential imaging for the diagnosis and treatment of animal patients. However, the use of radiological equipment involves exposure to ionizing radiation, which poses potential health risks to both animals and veterinary staff. Understanding how to implement effective radiology safety measures is essential to minimize these risks. Here are the key aspects of radiology safety in the veterinary field, focusing on principles, equipment, protective measures, and regulatory guidelines.

The ALARA Principle

One of the most important principles of radiation safety to align with is ALARA. The ALARA principle stands for As Low As Reasonably Achievable. This concept encourages radiographers to minimize radiation exposure and use the lowest possible dose to achieve the required diagnostic quality. Even is the dose is small, avoiding exposure to radiation that does not have a direct benefit to you, is the goal of ALARA. Additional factors to reduce scatter radiation for all radiographers are time, distance and shielding. 

  • Time: Referring to a customized technique chart with indications on appropriate kVp and MAs levels based on the patient's size measurements will ensure the best possible exposure the first time. Plan your measurements and settings ahead of time to limit the number of images taken. Be sure to use the shortest exposure time possible to minimize scatter radiation.
  • Distance: Radiation is not visible to the naked eye but that does not mean it cannot travel causing hazards within about 6 feet. Always stay as far as safely away from the source of radiation as possible. Radiographers without lead lined PPE should stay at least 6 feet away. The collimator should always be used to decrease the primary beam outside of the area needed to reduce scatter radiation. When possible, use positioning tools such as sandbags, soft fabric ties, foam wedges, or monitored sedation to reduce the need for human restraint. 
  • Shielding: Lead lined PPE such as gowns, aprons, gloves, thyroid shields, glasses and goggles are vital in protection against scatter radiation. Recognizing that shielding is not only necessary for flat panel x-rays but also dental digital x-rays will save you from extreme health hazards and hefty OSHA fines. Despite the x-ray location difference, the same lead lined PPE must be utilized during dental radiographs especially if standing within 6 feet.

Lead Lined PPE

Knowing there are formulations to compute, measurements to be taken, charts to be considered prior to taking x-rays and a patient that cannot communicate, the task can already begin to feel daunting before even getting started. A wiggly, nervous and potentially painful patient cannot This can provide a high-risk scenario for scatter and even primary radiation. Lead lined PPE was specifically created to reduce the effects of radiation. It is crucial to utilize all available PPE options every time in combination with utilizing the ALARA principle. If a patient can be alone safely such as during sedation, standing behind a lead lined wall is the best protection. 

While most of the lead lined PPE feels bendable, thin and almost exactly like clothing fabric, the lead within is still considered a breakable metal. If gowns are folded, crumpled or stepped on, overtime cracks and wearing may form within the gown. These defects may allow radiation to pass through without the wearer knowing. After using lead lined PPE, be sure to store them properly by hanging, draping or laying them down flat to prevent cracks and damage. Lead lined gloves can do well by having a small rod or similar form insert in the hand hole to maintain the shape. 

Regularly performing radiographs of your lead lined PPE will help ensure the quality and efficacy meets all federal OSHA, local and state regulations. Be sure to consider the integrity of the fasteners, belts, buckles, and velcro that keep the PPE on a person. If any of these features no longer keep the PPE in place and create gaps in scatter radiation protection, they should be considered for removal and replacement. 

Lead Lined PPE Disposal

Even though the amount of lead lining within most PPE is very thin and seemingly minimal, lead is still toxic no matter the quantity. Improper handling can pose serious health risks. The EPA has mandated that before disposing of any product containing lead, the generator of the product must determine the weight of the 'waste'. If the weight of hazardous lead waste is less than 100 kgs, the generator would be classified as a Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generator (CESQG). A retailer who generates between 100 kgs and 1000 kgs of hazardous lead waste in a calendar month, is classified as a Small Quantity Generator (SQG). And lastly, the generation of more than 1000 kgs of hazardous lead waste in a single calendar month classifies the generator as a Large Quantity Generator (LQG).

Once you have determined your appropriate classification based on waste production, it is vital to follow all EPA instructions for where, how and when to dispose of the waste. While those considered a CESQG have minimal requirements under the EPA’s regulation which allow for disposal in non-hazardous waste facilities, the facility must also be approved by the state. This stipulation is just one example of why it is important to check all local, state, and federal regulations regarding lead disposal. Remember. improper disposal of lead can result in significant environmental harm, contaminating soil and water sources. Always prioritize environmentally safe disposal methods.

Dosimetry Badges

A dosimetry badge is a critical tool for veterinary personnel working in an environment with radiographs. As we have discussed, radiation cannot be seen and therefore dosimetry badges must be worn at all times when performing radiographs. Dosimetry badges provide accurate measurements of the radiation dose an individual is exposed to over a specific period. This helps in tracking cumulative exposure and ensuring it remains within safe limits. By monitoring radiation levels, dosimetry badges can detect if an individual is approaching the maximum allowable dose, enabling timely interventions to prevent overexposure.

Not only does OSHA require the use of dosimetry badges but that their reports are reviewed regularly to ensure that radiation exposure is not exceeding recommended limits. Common types of dosimetry badges include thermoluminescent dosimeters (TLDs), optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dosimeters, and film badges. Each type uses different technology to measure and record radiation exposure. Badges are typically worn at the thyroid or collar level and always outside any lead lined PPE to ensure accurate radiation readings. 

Dosimetry badges should never leave the hospital or facility unless being shipped for analysis. If badges leave the hospital, there is a risk of exposure to the sun, it being left in a hot car, it going through the laundry, being misplaced among other concerns. Each radiographer is assigned their own badge and they must never be shared or swapped. This may lead to incorrect radiation results and is a great hazard overall to the users’ health. 

Radiology safety in the veterinary field is paramount to protect both animal patients and veterinary staff from the potential hazards of ionizing radiation. By adhering to established safety principles, using appropriate equipment and protective measures, and complying with regulatory guidelines, veterinary professionals can effectively minimize radiation risks while benefiting from the diagnostic power of radiology. Regular training and awareness are key components in maintaining a safe radiological practice in veterinary medicine. If you need assistance with understanding dosimetry badge results, radiation course training, documentation of radiation training, or additional radiology OSHA compliance, please reach out to Certified Safety Training at or (609) 375-8462.


Jensen, Monica, et al. “ACVR’s Radiation Safety Statement.” American College of Veterinary Radiation, American College of Veterinary Radiation, 2 June 2019, Accessed 5 May 2024.

“Dosimetry Badges for Veterinary Clinics | Veterinary Radiation Monitoring.”,

The California Veterinary Medical Board. “Radiation Safety Relating to Veterinary Medicine and Animal Health Technology in California.” The California Veterinary Medical Board, 2012.

“Wastes - Hazardous Waste - Treatment, Storage & Disposal (TSD).” United States Environmental Protection Agency, United States Environmental Protection Agency, 4 Apr. 2016,