Chicago zoo uses new CT scanner for animal imaging

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Jessi the aardvark's teeth are in good shape, say veterinarians at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo, which recently became only the second zoo in the U.S. to have an onsite CT scanner.

Brookfield Zoo veterinarians used the CT scanner to examine the animal's teeth, which, for aardvarks, are deeply recessed in their distinctive long, pointy snouts. The zoo's extensive imaging suite also boasts digital x-ray, mammography, ultrasound, and a PACS network to check the health of its animals.

Jessi, a 6-year-old, 100-lb female aardvark, was recently anesthetized and loaded into a CT scanner donated by the Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, IL. With aardvarks, less than an inch separates their upper and lower jaws when their mouths are wide open, making dental exams impossible because their teeth are located so far back in their mouths. The resulting images showed 20 healthy teeth; zoo vets will use the images to evaluate and compare aging aardvarks that might be experiencing dental problems.

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Zoo veterinarians load Bernard, a 26-year-old aardvark, into the CT scanner. Image courtesy of Brookfield Zoo.
The scanner can be used on animals that weigh up to 400 lb, such as tigers, dolphins, gorillas, or small bears, according to a zoo statement.

Since December, the zoo has used the CT scanner with many patients, including a Mexican gray wolf, a ferret, another aardvark, and a goat.

"The images from the CT scanner helped us provide better treatment for their medical problems, by making corrective surgery faster, more accurate, and lower-risk," noted Dr. Michael Adkesson, a veterinarian for the Chicago Zoological Society.

Extensive remodeling was necessary to accommodate the CT scanner: One wing of the zoo's animal hospital was renovated to provide a lead-walled room large enough to hold the machine and its accompanying equipment.

In addition to the CT scanner, the zoo's imaging collection includes a large animal x-ray system (Sedecal, Madrid, Spain), a Senographe 800T mammography unit (GE Healthcare, Chalfont St. Giles, U.K.), two digital radiography systems (Sound-Eklin Medical Systems, Carlsbad, CA), and a PACS network.

By Donna Domino contributing writer
April 6, 2010

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