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Radiologist’s Invention Helps Diagnose Critically Ill Cats


Pet Column for the week of November 30, 2009

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Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ashley Mitek
Information Specialist

Source - Robert O'Brien, DVM, MS, DACVR
Years ago it took several minutes to perform a CT scan on a critically ill patient--human or animal. But with the arrival of the new 16-slice CT machine (the same type of scanner found at top-notch human hospitals) at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, scanning is complete in a matter of seconds.

That said, "we gained with the increased speed and improved image quality, but still were very limited because patients still needed general anesthesia," explains Dr. Robert O'Brien, a veterinary radiologist at the Teaching Hospital. While the newer technology provided superior imaging capabilities, all patients undergoing a CT at the teaching hospital in years past had to first be under general anesthesia because they had to remain perfectly still during the several minute long scan.

The problem was highlighted with dogs or cats arriving at the emergency room in respiratory distress. As clinicians would furiously try to work up the cause of the life-threatening ailment, they needed diagnostic imaging to actually see what was going on in the lungs. But anesthetizing an unstable patient can be fatal, and so a CT scan could never be performed on these patients, complicating and prolonging diagnosis and treatment.

But then Dr. O'Brien had an idea. If only he could make a device that provided oxygen and allowed the patient to rest while undergoing a CT, then they would not have to anesthetize the patient. "We wanted this device to improve on care of the patient in our emergency room, allow for access to the patient's IV line and provide continual oxygen support before, during, and after the scan," he explains.

After a few prototypes, Dr. O'Brien has finally come up with the VetMouseTrap. "It is used nearly every day at the hospital now that word has gotten around that we have the ability to do a CT on a critically ill patient without anesthesia," he notes.

Despite all the hype, the VetMouseTrap is very simple. Constructed from clear plexiglass, the top half lifts off like the top of a pet carrier. The patient is placed in the tube and has room to lie down in a comfortable position. The device also doubles as a short term oxygen cage in the emergency room and transport device within the hospital.

One might ask how a cat that is laying casually can be accurately imaged with a CT scan. With the new 16-slice machine, the animal can lay in any position it chooses. Once the five-second imaging is complete, the computer reconstructs the data into a perfect set of images that the radiologist can interpret.

Dr. O'Brien reports that he has had numerous universities and private practices expressing an interest in obtaining the device. Production of the device is currently limited to collaborative research, including the University of Glasgow and University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Currently funded research continues on cats in respiratory distress, cats with nasal disease, and small dogs with collapsing tracheal disease.

For more information on the VetMouseTrap you can contact the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at 217-333-5300.