PLATTSBURGH — Pet owners will no longer have to look out of state or drive more than an hour to access a high-tech diagnostic tool for their animals, thanks to Plattsburgh Animal Hospital.
The practice now features an in-house Computerized Tomography Scanner or CT scan, a critical diagnostic tool that has otherwise been non-existent for pets in the area.
Veterinarian and owner Dr. Joseph Church said they had been looking for a CT scanner that would fit well within the criteria for the practice.
“We found a certain variety that makes it cost effective and available to house in a building like this,” Church said.
“Those were the keys.”
The new scanner shares space in the X-ray room, which is lead-lined, but the new equipment doesn’t require that extra protection.
The practice’s unit is self-shielding and operates using batteries that are charged with a simple power cord.
The unit is smaller than the average CT scanner one would find at a human medical practice, featuring a smaller bore, which can fit even large dogs.
The machine is on wheels, giving it the ability to move back and forth over a sedated animal, producing a diagnostic image.
The images are instantly uploaded to computers inside the diagnostic room and the patient’s room, where doctors can view, rotate and even peel back layers in a 3D rendering of the animal.
Muscles, bones, tissue and even the intestines can be made out in the image.
Doctors then can use contrast to lighten or darken certain areas to accurately diagnose tumors and masses within the body.
“The accuracy is there,” Church said. “This is a diagnostic tool, but by having more diagnostic tools like this, we can do more as far as surgery and treatment with accuracy and proper planning.
“We know exactly what's underneath the tissue and what's going on there. There’s no question to it.”
Getting an accurate diagnosis more quickly was also important to the practice and pushed the need to find a scanner they could offer to pet parents in-house.
“The biggest precedence is diagnosis and then treatment,” he said.
“So to get the accurate diagnosis in the same building right away aids in quicker treatment.”
The practice also acknowledged how hard it can be on some pet parents to seek imaging elsewhere, where it might require distance traveling and a more expensive cost.
“It’s quite a commitment to go to a specialty (vet practice) because you need a quick answer,” Church said.
“Northern New York is a unique area because we are limited in some ways with specialty practices.”
Church said they kept cost in mind while searching for the unit.
“What has kept them from being used in a general practice or a system like this is finding a way to manage it and that it’s cost effective,” Church said.
“There isn't medical insurance, like there is for people, and you have to make sure it can be afforded in this system.”
Due to an increase in animals being referred for CT scans over the years and a growing practice, Church saw the need for diagnostic tool.
CT scans for animals are commonly used in cases of lameness of elbows and shoulders and for spinal problems.
Dental imaging is also common, allowing discontinuation of dental X-rays, which are often considered not user friendly and difficult.
“Dogs mouths are very different,” he said. “Getting the right angle and the technique in getting those angles is difficult and takes a lot of time. The CT scanner takes that out of the equation.
“It’s so much more efficient.”
It was crucial to the team that the CT Scanner and program be user friendly.
“The idea is that everyone can handle this, no user error,” Director of Operations Mark LaFountain said.
“We need people to have a good image and have no question. This takes all of that operator error out of it.”
Images produced by the scans can be brought up on screen in the patient’s room, where the doctor can go over the scan visually with pet owners.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” LaFountain said.
Overall, the practice is excited to be able to offer this new service to the North Country and to assist in helping more animals.
“Everyone has pets, everyone loves their pets, and everyone is willing to and looking for other services to help them,” Church said.
“Animals can’t speak for themselves,” LaFountain said. "The more information we have inside an animal, this is just another tool to help."