A CAT Scanner That Scans Cats & Dogs 4

Major Advance in the Health of the Valley’s Pets

Not long ago, Dr. John Kuck was asked to take a look at a friend’s dog. The dog – we’ll call her Blue – was having difficulty breathing, and the side of Blue’s face was a bit swollen. “That’s usually a dental abcess,” says Kuck. “So I aspirated the swelling and sent a sample to the lab. But the lab results indicated a giant cell epulis, which is a rare kind of tumor.”

In both animals and humans, tumors can remain hidden for months to years. Without exploratory surgery, there has been no way to really tell how far a tumor has advanced. But fortunately for Blue, Dr. Kuck had recently bought a new scanner – a CAT scan sized and shaped perfectly for peering into the bodies of cats, dogs and other pets.

“We put the patient into the CT scanner,” Kuck recalls. “It revealed a much more invasive process than we could see by physical examination.” The tumor had eaten away a part of the dog’s jaw and it was blocking the dog’s nasal passage as well. Thanks to the CT images, Kuck was able to remove most of the tumor.

“I do a lot of surgery, including some advanced procedures,” says Kuck. “But there’s a limit to what you can do, a limit that is imposed by facilities and technology. I used to send cases needing advanced imaging to a local human imaging facility. It was kind of a favor for them to help us out, and it was done after hours. It was expensive, and not convenient for owners here. As a result, some would just decide to skip radiology.”

Kuck’s first glimpse of what a CT scanner could do came at a veterinary conference in Korea. He had gone to the conference there to deliver a lecture and saw the machine. He came home impressed with the clarity of the images and detailed inside information the technology could deliver.

After considerable research, Kuck purchased and installed a “New Tom” scanner in his offices at Willits Veterinary Hospital. The term “CAT scan” is an acronym for Computerized Axial Tomography. The technology offers a way to X-ray a mass in a the body in three dimensions or in one-millimeter-thick slices allowing veterinarians – and pet owners – to see three-dimensional views in jaw-dropping detail.

The Italian-made New Tom takes those thin image slices and reassembles them into a virtual three-dimensional image of an animal patient. On screen, Dr. Kuck can rotate the image and slice it open at any point, looking in any direction to see both bone and soft tissue. Bone is shown in white and air spaces are black. Soft tissue is detailed in shades of gray. The CT scanner is faster and less expensive than an MRI, and clarity of the image stands in marked contrast to an ultrasound or an ordinary X-ray image.

The New Tom machine uses a cone shaped X-Ray beam first developed for human dental practices. It’s faster than a conventional CT scanner, produces great images, and exposes patients and staff to far less radiation. The machine has a flat bed called a gantry which conveys the patient into the bore of the machine for scanning. While inside the scanner, the pet is under general anesthesia or sedated and held securely with Velcro restraints. The New Tom’s gantry slides into a huge, doughnut-shaped scanner that takes 300 images every 18 seconds.

“The decision to get this machine was driven by my frustration about sending patients to the Front Range for advanced imaging and about owners not wanting to make the drive,” says Kuck. “I have heard from other local vets that they have been having the same experience. My theory is that a lot of CT scans have not been done in this valley due to issues with cost and availability.” Shortly after installing the machine in June, Dr. Kuck invited other Roaring Fork Valley veterinarians to take advantage of this remarkable diagnostic technology, and he has seen a steady stream of referrals.

Kuck, who grew up in Ohio, opened his practice in the Willits shopping area in May 2012. His wife, Kristen Kuck, a Certified Veterinary Technician and a native of Carbondale, runs the clinic. A second veterinarian, Dr. Melissa Goldyn, and several animal-loving staffers round out the practice.

“There’s nothing like this machine in the western half of the state, and this is the only New Tom in Colorado,” says Kuck. “It should really improve the health of animals here on the Western Slope.”