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What are veterinary PET/CT Scans?

Some conditions, like cancer, require the use of technology to assist in diagnostics. Here, our Springfield vets compare and contrast a CT scan vs. a PET scan and share what you should expect when you take your pet to a diagnostic imaging appointment. 

PET Scan vs. CT Scan

Diagnostic imaging plays an enormous role in diagnosing and treating diseases in veterinary medicine. This includes the use of PET and CT scans.

So, what is the difference between a CT (computed tomography, or CAT) scan and a PET (positron emission tomography) 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 veterinarians how the tissues in the body function.

  • PET and CT scans use different materials. CT scans pass X-rays through the body to create images, while PET scans use a radioactive material that emits energy that a special camera can detect.
  • A PET scan takes longer, whereas a CT scan can be performed in minutes. This is why a CT scan may be used more often in emergencies when a vet needs to act fast.
  • Following a CT scan, no radiation remains in your pet's body, 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 detect diseases as early as possible. This is why PET scans are a highly reliable tool for detecting cancer. A CT scan will show signs of an issue after the disease has begun to change the structure of the tissues or organs.

What is a PET/CT scan used for?

A PET/CT (or PET-CT) scan is just what it sounds like. This procedure combines a PET scan and a CT scan. The CT portion of the scan produces a three-dimensional image of your pet's body, while the PET part uses radioactive material to show your vet exactly how the tissues and organs are functioning. 

Can a PET/CT scan detect cancer?

A PET/CT scan can be used to show damaged or cancerous cells in your pet's body. Your vet will inject your cat or dog with small amounts of radioactive material called radiotracers, which can be identical in size and appearance to glucose molecules in the body. Cancer cells are more active and absorb glucose faster than normal cells. Because of this, they will absorb the radiotracers in much the same way, and the areas with elevated amounts will appear brighter on the image.

If there are indicators of cancer cells, your vet will develop a plan that may involve additional testing, biopsy, or treatments such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Do all cancers show up on PET scans?

PET/CT scans help vets diagnose a number of different types of cancer, including melanoma and lymphoma. They are also considered to be quite accurate. Unfortunately, some cancers may not appear on a PET/CT scan, including certain lung cancers, carcinoid tumors, and low-grade lymphomas. This is due to their slow growth or limited activity.

How long does a PET/CT scan take?

The PET/CT scan should take around 30 minutes to complete. For the CT machine to produce high-quality images, it is very important for the patient being imaged to be as still as possible during the scan, so heavy sedation or general anesthesia is necessary.

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

Your pet's vital signs are closely monitored while under anesthesia throughout the entire CT scan procedure. While the scan itself may only take around 30 minutes, the entire appointment may take up to an hour. Following the CT scan, our veterinary specialists will interpret your pet's images and produce a detailed report with findings and diagnostic recommendations for your primary care veterinarian or the specialist vet who will be handling your pet's treatment.

Veterinary CT Scans at The Regional Veterinary Referral Center

At our Springfield veterinary hospital, we have a helical multi-slice scanner. This advanced technology allows us to perform much quicker examinations. This means that your pet experiences reduced time under anesthesia, and we can see even greater detail than was possible before.

This technology also allows us to transform two-dimensional images into three-dimensional ones. This provides better diagnostic information and allows for far more accurate treatment planning. In addition, we can monitor the patient’s response to therapy and alter our treatment plans accordingly to provide the greatest chance of success. These procedures can be performed on an outpatient basis and are supervised by a licensed veterinarian. A board-certified radiologist will evaluate the images produced. Ask your primary care vet for a referral today.

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.

Is your dog or cat in need of advanced diagnostics? Please ask your vet for a referral to be seen by our Springfield vet specialists.

New Patients & Referrals Welcome

The Regional Veterinary Referral Center is accepting new patients in emergency situations or by referral! Our experienced specialists are passionate about the health of Springfield pets. Contact us today to learn more.

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