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Your Guide to PET/CT Scans for Pets

CT and PET scans provide your vet with vital information about your pet's health. Wondering what exactly PET/CT is used for and what you should expect when you bring your pet in for one of these tests? Read on to find these answers and more. 

Diagnostic Imaging For Dogs & Cats

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.  As in human hospitals, a CT scanner is a versatile diagnostic tool for our team here at Veterinary Specialty Center of Tucson. 

PET Scan vs CT Scan

A CT scan creates a detailed still image of your animal's organs, bones and tissues. A PET scan, on the other hand, shows doctors how the tissues in the body are working 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 will generally take 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 remain in your animal's body for a short period of time.
  • PET scans have the incredible ability to show molecular activity which can help your vet to spot the very earliest signs of developing diseases. This is why PET scan technology is a highly reliable tool for detecting cancer in people. In contrast, a CT scan is able to show signs of an issue after the disease has begun to change the structure of the tissues or organs.

CT Scan Technology

Computed tomographic imaging, also known as a "CT" or "cat scan", works by producing multiple individual images or "slices" throughout a region of interest in the 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, then configures them into a complete image that your veterinarian can view.  These slices can also be used to create three-dimensional reconstructions that can be very useful for tasks such as surgical planning.

Once CT images are produced, they are typically sent to a veterinary specialist for review and to be interpreted. 

What PET/CT Scans Are Used For

CT Scans

The high-resolution images produced by the CT machine help us to evaluate your pet's anatomy in great detail - a level of detail that we would not be able to achieve 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 we image here at Carolina Veterinary Specialists using CT technology include the spine, the nasal cavity, the inner ear, bones/joints, and the chest/lungs. We can also use the CT machine to assess lymph nodes, the thyroid gland, abdominal organs, the skull/brain, and vascular structures.

PET Scans (Positron Emission Tomography)

PET scans are a type of CT scan that can be performed in combination with the use of a contrast agent given to your pet intravenously (IV). The contrast agent allows your veterinary specialist 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.

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

For the CT scanner to produce high-quality images, it is essential for the patient 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 to hold their breath is sufficient. Unfortunately, this technique is not feasible for dogs and cats, so heavy sedation or general anesthesia is typically used. 

Your pet's vital signs are closely monitored while under anesthesia throughout the entire PET/CT process. The CT scanner at our hospital is very efficient, and a typical CT scan only takes a short time, although a PET scan will take longer. Following the PET/CT imaging process, our veterinary team will interpret your dog or cat's images and produce a detailed report with findings and diagnostic recommendations for your primary care veterinarian or the specialist vet that will be 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.

Does your pet require PET/CT imaging? Contact Veterinary Specialty Center of Tucson today to learn more about our advanced diagnostic capabilities, and to book an examination for your four-legged friend.

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