When your dog needs a cat scan: Providing advanced care for our furry family members has been helped immeasurably by applying some of the revolutionary medical technologies which have arisen over the past decades.
Almost every serious human medical problem is evaluated by some type of advanced imaging in today’s well-equipped hospital. CAT scans (now called “CT scans” or just “CT”), MRI, ultrasound and even nuclear medicine imaging such as PET scans, are commonplace in human medicine. The diseases affecting our pets are as complex as those that afflict humans. In many cases, advanced diagnostic imaging is the best way to find out what is making a pet ill.
We are all familiar with X-rays (radiographs) which have been used for nearly a century to diagnose internal problems. X-rays are still a mainstay in human medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine because they are widely available, (relatively) inexpensive and can often provide a diagnosis without resorting to more expensive or invasive testing. They have their limitations though; radiographs are not well-suited for evaluating a broad range of medical problems, and can produce inconclusive or ambiguous results.
Ultrasound is extremely important in veterinary medicine for evaluation of diseases inside the abdomen. The relatively small size of (most!) of our patients allows a skilled sonographer to get detailed information about a patient’s abdominal organs for evaluation of digestive problems, urinary problems, cancer screening and a wide range of other applications.
MRI uses a powerful magnetic field and radio waves to map a patient’s internal anatomy. As in human medicine, MRI is used mainly for evaluation of the pet’s central nervous system and other soft tissues throughout the body.
While cost and availability are obstacles in implementing some of these technologies for dogs and cats, they are becoming more widely accepted as a standard diagnostic practice by members of the medical field and pet owners alike. Ultrasound is already used extensively in veterinary medicine and, in most cases, is our best tool to evaluate the abdominal organs. Ultrasound is relatively inexpensive compared to CT and MRI, which usually require a sedated or anesthetized patient and special equipment housing usually only found at referral hospitals. CT and MRI typically cost a thousand to several thousand dollars, and therefore are used more sparingly, in specific situations. The same is certainly true of human hospitals as well; rarely does your GP have ready access to an in-house MRI or CT, and referrals for MRI and CT are only given when necessary.
With technological advancements in medical imaging, our ability to provide accurate information to pet owners about their pets’ conditions is improving. This leads to less uncertainty in diagnosis and prognosis, allowing us to make the best choices in our roles as family members and medical decision-makers for our cherished companions.
About Mason Holland, VMD
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Radiology
Dr. Holland graduated with honors from Virginia Tech with a degree in Biology. In 1999 he received his veterinary degree from the University of Pennsylvania and completed a one year small animal internship also at the University of Pennsylvania in 2000. Dr. Holland spent the next five years in small animal practice in northern California. In 2008, he completed a three year residency in radiology at the University of Georgia and became board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Radiology. His areas of interest include radiography, ultrasound, CT and MRI of small animals. Dr. Holland joined the IVG network of hospitals in August 2008.