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Pioneering Galway veterinary practice offers in-house CT scan for pets

A generation of us have long been enthralled with what Supervet Noel Fitzpatrick can do to save the lives of beloved pets.

And while not quite reaching the feats of the ‘Bionic Vet’, a new addition to a Galway veterinary practice could see more animals live longer and with a better quality of life.

Ark Vets in Knocknacarra and St Mary’s Road is the first practice in the west of Ireland to offer pets an in-house CT scan.

Exactly the same as the CT (Computed Tomography) or CAT scan that has long been an essential diagnostic tool for humans, the machine will be particularly useful for getting a clearer picture of lung disease, whether there are secondary tumours internally or common spinal problems like prolapsed discs.

Giving a much more detailed overview of the internal system than a traditional x-ray, the CT scan can really help when deciding if an operation will improve the quality of life of the patient and how that surgery should proceed, explains Art Vets Galway Clinical Director Aidan Miller.

Before this, patients would have to be referred for CT scans as far away as Cork or Meath.

“It’s about information gathering, much more advanced information gathering. A lot of our clients are now looking for almost human care for their pets and we can’t do more if we don’t have more diagnostic tools. We can also plan surgeries better,” he explains.

“A CT is like visualising what’s happening inside the body, scanning the brain, spinal cord, chest, abdomen and joints.

“Sometimes dogs have tumours on the outside, but for really aggressive types of cancer you are worried there’s something else going on inside the body. Ultrasounds can’t scan lungs and often there can be secondary tumours in the lungs. CTs can pick up very early tumours in lungs and livers.

“If there aren’t secondary tumours there – while you can never say never – you can confidently remove ones that are obvious. If you see secondary tumours in the liver, then you have to have a discussion with the owners to see if it’s in the best interest of the pet to operate.

“Like with people, you always do your best, but the aim of surgery is to give the animal a better quality of life for longer, you don’t want to put them through too much for nothing.”

CTs are excellent for conditions like liver shunts and give a much clearer picture of the lungs in chronically coughing dogs. They also give a fuller assessment of internal injuries that can be difficult to diagnose in the event of a road traffic.

Dogs usually have a sedative rather than a general anaesthetic to undergo the scan, which is taken in under half a minute. Most pet insurance policies will cover a CT scan, which costs around €850.

The CT cost varies if a general anaesthetic has to be used and if there’s a rush on the results.

“The machine is expensive and there has to be a vet and a nurse there all the time the animal is under sedation. We send the images for review to a specialist veterinary radiologist in the UK who send back a detailed report. It usually takes a week, but we can request to get emergency ones back in under a day.”

The clinic will also provide outpatient scans to other practices.

Ark Vets is a member of IVC Evidensia, which is a large group of independent veterinary practices throughout Ireland, England and Europe.

“This has allowed us to significantly invest in our premises which we have increased the size by two and half times allowing us to create more veterinary and nursing consultation rooms. It also has allowed us to invest in a CT machine which can scan pets from as small as a gerbil to a Great Dane.”

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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