Thomas Voracek sometimes uses CT scanning to examine his patients. Nothing extraordinary there: millions of CT scans are performed every year to look for broken bones, internal bleeding or tumors.
But Thomas’ patients are far from ordinary. His last one was a four-foot long giant salamander, being scanned to determine if it is a male or a female.
Thomas is a vet at the Schönbrunn Zoo in Vienna, one of only a handful of zoos in the world that use CT technology to examine animals. The technology is the exact same as for humans: X-ray beams are passed through the specimen at different angles, and a high-resolution 3D image is stitched together by computer to reveal internal structures.
Since acquiring the scanner in January 2015, the zoo has scanned many animals including dogs, cats, rabbits, lizards, and even a vicuña.
“As veterinarians, we are not only responsible for the health and of residents of the zoo, but take care of our animals as if they were private patients,” explains Thomas, head of the veterinary surgery at the zoo.
“The first animal that was examined was one of our animals: a giant salamander. With him, the CT was not used because he was sick, but to identify his gender. The sex of these reptiles cannot be detected externally, so the information we got from the CT is essential for us to be able to devise breeding programs.”
The CT scanner the zoo uses was chosen for its low dose of X-rays per scan. Too much exposure to X-rays can have adverse effects, so choosing a machine that finely balances radiation dose with image quality and speed was essential to ensure animals of all shapes and sizes can be examined safely.
The Brivo CT385 is a 16-slice CT scanner that provides detailed, high-resolution images of even the smallest bones and joints. Outstanding picture quality can also be found in soft tissue scans of intervertebral discs, the liver, the kidneys and the lungs. The Pitch Booster function allows for fast coverage at 35 mm per second, which is essential to get clear sharp images of animals that don’t always keep still.