The Amazing World of Animal Radiology

Usually, when we get patients for a scan, our patients are humans, but there’s a whole world of adorable patients that occasionally require their moment under the spotlight – animals! The process of preparing these furry, feathery, or scaly friends for a scan is an intriguing blend of science and creativity.  

If you’re a veterinarian or have a pet that has undergone an x-ray before, you probably won’t even bat an eye at this. But have you ever wondered how vets manage to position small animals like hamsters and gerbils for their scans? The answer might be simpler than you think. To help keep these small animals in place, vets use tape! Usually, the animals receive anesthesia before the scans to limit anxiety and movement, but watching this little hamster get position can bring a smile onto anyone’s face. 

And who could forget the hedgehog x-ray meme that was going around a while ago? 

Similar to tiny mammals, birds need to have their wings taped down for x-rays as well. Unlike larger animals, their entire coelomic cavity must be captured in a single image due to the absence of a division between the thoracic and abdominal components. To reduce stress and prevent injuries, birds have to be sedated as well. See how Exotic Bird Hospital take their avian radiographs. 

Now, consider this: have you ever imagined scanning a fish? At first glance, the notion seems silly. How would we scan an animal that needs to be in water to survive? This team at the Denver Zoo figured it out! One of their French angelfish was having buoyancy issues, so they set off to scan the fish at the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Animal Hospital. The team sedated the fish and ran water intermittently over its gills as they performed the CT scan. Talk about being a fish out of water! 

We’re happy to say the little guy is back in its tank with a treatment plan to help.  

Instagram @denverzoo

Moving on from smaller animals, did you know you can scan big cats and bears? Since they are much heavier, they need special machines that can hold up to 2.200 pounds. Like all other animals, larger mammals need to be sedated as well, but they also get intubated to help them breathe throughout the procedure. In 2019, a polar bear at the Brookfield Zoo got his first scan. Since he weighed 1000 pounds, the zoo had to use a construction vehicle to transport Hudson to the CT machine. 

Radiology is important to all species, no matter how big or small they are. From the tiniest hamster to the grandest polar bear, the world of animal scans is a captivating and heartwarming adventure that showcases the extraordinary efforts made by veterinarians and animal care teams to keep our beloved creatures in the best of health. 


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