Dr. PJ Rocheleau, local veterinary surgeon at Espanola Animal Hospital, is thrilled with the newest piece of equipment to be installed on the premises. On Thursday, Feb. 2, he and his staff received a computed tomography (CT) scanner. Since the cost of owning such a machine would be exorbitant the scanner is currently being leased. The staff is looking forward to this coming Thursday and Friday when they will be undergoing training in its use.

Rocheleau is quick to say that this is a very big deal for Northern Ontario. Since most CT scanners are still found in large referral centres, he expects Espanola will be the operating referral centre for all of Northern Ontario. His hospital is the first to have a CT machine in Northern Ontario.

He went on to say that, “such technology is just becoming available to our profession in terms of practicality and cost.”

A CT scanner operates similar to an x-ray machine, except that when it scans an object, it breaks it down into small slices, a series of images. These small slices are then reassembled into a three dimensional image of the whole object. The resulting image Rocheleau said can be manipulated from any vantage point by the surgeon and a determination made on how best to proceed. If a 3-D printer is available the image can be used to make a plastic model of the actual area that has been scanned. The animal being scanned does not need any invasive surgery to find out what is wrong inside its body so there is less stress on the creature.

Rocheleau gave several examples of how helpful the scanner will be. The scanner can be used to look at a dog’s skull, any limb deformation, spinal tumors, gastrointestinal scans for foreign objects, bone cancer, polyps in the ear, any neurological disease.

He says the machine can “diagnose anything structural or anatomical.”

He went on to say the CT scanner “has unbelievable diagnostic and surgical power.”

The animal being scanned needs to be sedated, to ensure they do not move. This is to obtain a proper scan.

Rocheleau says it takes 60 seconds to scan a dog. Once the animal is on the gurney the scanner moves over the gurney. He says this will be extremely helpful with spinal fractures, where pins must be placed in the spine. With ordinary surgery there is a chance that if the pins are placed in the wrong area the animal will never walk again. Ordinary surgery is very invasive and it is difficult to be absolutely sure of the placement of the pins. The scanner will show the exact area the pins need to be placed and there will be no need to make any marks on the outside of the animal.

Now that the CT scanner is here Rocheleau says he is happy spinal surgeries can be done in Espanola instead of being referred to southern Ontario and the costs should be cut in half. He says he recently completed a spinal surgery course in Las Vegas and will be going back to Vegas the end of March for more spinal surgery training.

He added, with new procedures in veterinary medicine occurring frequently it is important to try and keep on top of things.