PET/CT Scans for Dogs & Cats

To help you understand why your dog or cat may need a CT scan or PET scan our South Wilton vets explain a little about what PET/CT technology is used for and what you should expect when you take your four-legged friend in for a CT/PET scan. 

Veterinary Diagnostic Imaging

Diagnostic imaging plays an enormous role in the diagnosis and treatment of disease in both human and veterinary medicine.  The advancements made in technology and imaging over the past years have aided tremendously in helping doctors diagnose and treat various conditions that may have been proven difficult before.  

What is the difference between a PET scan vs CT scan?

A CT scan (computed tomography scan) creates a detailed still image of your animal's organs, bones and tissues. A PET scan (positron emission tomography), on the other hand, shows doctors and vets how the tissues in the body work on a cellular level.

  • CT and PET use different materials: CT scans pass x-rays through the body to create images. Whereas A PET scan uses a radioactive material that emits energy which can be detected by a special camera.
  • A PET scan takes longer. Where a CT scan can be performed in minutes making it an excellent tool for emergency situations when a vet needs to act fast. A PET scan can take anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours to complete.
  • There is no radiation remaining in your pet's body following a CT scan, whereas after a PET scan a small amount of radiation may stay in the body for a short period of time.
  • PET scans show molecular activity that can help in the very earliest detection of disease. This is why a PET scan is a highly reliable tool for detecting cancer in people. A CT scan will show signs of an issue after the disease has begun to change the structure of the tissues or organs.

How Does a CT Machine Work?

Computed tomographic imaging, also known as a "CT" or "cat scan", works by producing multiple individual images or "slices" throughout a specific region of interest in your animal's body through the use of radiation (x-rays) and a computer.  A common comparison to an image produced by a CT scanner is individual slices of bread that make up a complete loaf.  

CT technology produces two-dimensional slices of a section of your pet’s anatomy and then reconfigures them into a complete image that can be viewed and analyzed by your vet or veterinary specialist.  These slices can also be used to create three-dimensional reconstructions that can be very useful for things like surgical planning.

What are PET/CT scans used for in pets and how is it beneficial? 

CT Scans

The high-resolution images produced by the CT scanner help your pet's veterinary team to evaluate your dog or cat's anatomy in greater detail than we would otherwise be able to see with using standard x-rays. 

CT scanners provide excellent detail of bony and soft tissue structures in the body. The most common areas of the body CT technology is used for include the spine, the nasal cavity, the inner ear, bones/joints, and the chest/lungs. Vets can also use CT technology to assess lymph nodes, the thyroid gland, abdominal organs, the skull/brain, and vascular structures.

PET Scans

A CT scan can also be combined with a contrast agent given to your animal intravenously (IV), which allows your pet's veterinary team to see increased areas of blood flow in the body. This aids in the detection of cancer and areas of inflammation. In people Positron Emission Tomography (PET)  scans are used to give doctors a detailed view of how the patient's tissues and organs are working. PET scans are most commonly used to detect and monitor cancer in both people and our companion animals.

What to Expect if Your Pet Has a PET/CT Scan?

In order for the CT machine to produce high-quality images, it is very important for the patient being imaged to be as still as possible while the scan is taking place.  In human medicine, simply telling the patient to not move and to occasionally hold their breath works just fine. Unfortunately, this technique is not feasible for dogs and cats, so heavy sedation or general anesthesia is necessary to keep dogs and cats still during the scanning process. 

Your pet's vital signs will be closely monitored by the veterinary team throughout the entire CT scanning process. Veterinary CT scanners are very efficient, and a typical CT scan only takes a short time. Following the CT, your pet's images will be analyzed and a detailed report with findings and diagnostic recommendations will be provided to your primary care vet or the specialist handling your pet's treatment.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your dog or cat requires emergency care during routine business hours, contact us as soon as possible. At South Wilton Veterinary Group, our team uses diagnostic imaging technologies to provide you with a quick and accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition. 

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