High-Tech Testing Extends Pets' Lives
Today, many pet owners are opting for high-tech testing and more advanced treatments to prolong the life of their beloved dog or cat. This has resulted in better care for everything from diabetes to cancer to heart trouble. Read on to find out more about testing and treatment options for your pet.
Easier access to veterinary specialists and advanced veterinary technology is helping our fourlegged friends lead longer and healthier lives. “Veterinary medicine has changed in the past 40 years,” says Dr. Sheldon Rubin, chief of staff at Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago. “Now, technology used in veterinary medicine is equal to that used in human medicine.” These technologies are now becoming more commonly employed in veterinary medicine as the number of specialty clinics around the country rises.
Cardiac ultrasound. Cardiac ultrasound with color-flow Doppler imaging effectively shows the blood moving through the heart. The color of the blood on the ultrasound indicates how fast the blood is moving. This technology can be used to check for congenital defects, abnormalities in the thickness of the heart wall, or leaky valves (ones that do not close completely).
Computed tomography (CT or CAT). New and improved CT scanners allow veterinarians to complete diagnostic testing much faster. “With the original CT scanners, it could take 20 minutes to run the test. To hold the patient perfectly still, we had to put the animal in a deep sleep using anesthesia,” says Dr. Guy Pidgeon, president and CEO of the Animal Medical Center in New York City. “Now, we can use CT in the blink of an eye.” The center’s staff doctors often use a CT scanner, essentially the same machine used on humans, to check the abdominal cavity, kidneys, liver, lungs, and spine of cats and dogs.
Digital radiography. One of the newest advances in both human and veterinary medicine is digital technology, and one of its main uses is in radiography. This method of taking patient images has numerous advantages over traditional x-ray film, including exposure to far less radiation, the ability to take more images, and faster (almost instantaneous) display of images. In addition, veterinarians can now send images to other computers within the hospital as well as to a specialist off-site (see Telemedicine, below). Digital radiography systems can be integrated into a picture archiving and communication system, which can manage and store all patient images in one central location while also allowing access at any computer in the network.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This technology is used to assess the nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) in great detail. Like CT scanners, MRI units used on pets are the same as those used on people, except the software is specialized for testing on animal patients.
Telemedicine. Telemedicine is becoming popular at many animal hospitals. For example, veterinarians can now take an ultrasound or digital x-ray and send it to a specialist electronically. The specialist can examine the image on his or her computer and make a diagnosis without ever seeing the animal or being on staff. Another example is transmitting an electrocardiogram (ECG) in real time over a phone line using a modem. A veterinary cardiologist can look at the ECG and provide a diagnosis as soon as the veterinarian transmits the information.
AROUND THE CORNER
The next great high-tech diagnostic tool that will be used for dogs and cats is positron emission tomography (PET) scanning, which will be a step beyond CT scanning. During PET scanning on people, a dye is injected into the body to see how well a particular organ is functioning, rather than just what the organ’s structure looks like. Animal PET scanning will be similar.
DID YOU KNOW?
In addition to high-tech testing options, veterinarians now have treatments available that are similar to those used on people:
Arthritis medications. Newer medications are being used to manage the pain associated with arthritis. Blood transfusions. Many animal hospitals now have access to a centralized blood bank that can be used for blood transfusions. The blood is needed for animals that have been in auto accidents or are hemorrhaging, for example.
Cancer treatments. Today, surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy are the mainstays of cancer treatment. However, new treatments are being explored. Centers around the country are working on treatments that use vaccine technology against cancer. “It has been a dream that the immune system can be used to tackle cancer,” says Dr. Pidgeon. If these centers are successful, that dream could become a reality.
Cardiac medications. Angiotensinconverting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are given to prevent heart failure. In addition, “there are medicines that strengthen the heart, while others slow the heart down,” says Dr. Pidgeon. “Some change the blood pressure, and others remove fluids.”
Cataract surgery. A cataract in a dog or cat’s eye can be treated by surgically removing it. The procedures and equipment used to remove cataracts are the same as those used in humans, and replacement lenses made specifically for dogs are available.
Orthopedic options. In large dogs, hips are being replaced with artificial hips similar to what is implanted in humans. Various universities are working diligently on knee replacements for animals.
Physical therapy. This type of treatment is growing in popularity. A great deal of focus has been placed on water therapy. In-water treadmills are being used postoperatively with dogs. Range-of-motion therapy and aerobic exercise are also being used to work the muscles and increase circulation to the body. These therapies are excellent for dogs and cats that are recovering from surgery.
Pets are such an important part of our lives, so owners want to make sure they provide their pets with the best possible care. With all these options available, you can be sure your pet will receive top-notch treatment.
WHO IS DOING THE TREATING?
The veterinary profession has changed in the past several years, as many veterinarians are becoming certified in a specialty. Facilities are cropping up all over the United States that employ only specialists who work on referral. These specialty hospitals have animal behaviorists, cardiologists, dentists, dermatologists, general surgeons, orthopedic surgeons, oncologists, ophthalmologists, and physical therapists. Consequently, many times, veterinarians will refer to a specialist when a case is more complex.