RVC Unveils New CT Scanner for Horses

RVC Unveils New CT Scanner for Horses

The new scanner is wider than the standard size, which should allow most of a horse's neck to be examined.

Photo: Courtesy of the Royal Veterinary College

The Royal Veterinary College, in Hertfordshire, England, has for some time offered standing computed tomography (CT) imaging for horses. But recently the college unveiled their newest addition to their imaging department: the U.K.’s first specialized equine CT scanner.

The new CT scanner is 10 centimeters (nearly 4 inches) wider than the standard 75-centimeter (nearly 30-inch) size, which has a significant impact on how much of a horse can be examined. Most of the neck will be able to fit into the new scanner, enabling veterinarians and students to enhance their diagnostic ability, improve their understanding of neck problems in the horse, and potentially aid them in developing new treatment methods.

Imaging is a key component of the diagnostic process in most patients at the RVC’s Equine Hospital, with more than 80% of cases undergoing at least one imaging procedure. Diagnostic imaging is even more crucial in animals than humans since animals cannot communicate exactly where they feel pain.

Over the last decade, diagnostic imaging has undergone considerable developments with more sophisticated methods such as CT and MRI becoming available for use in more horses, in addition to radiographs. Both CT and MRI produce virtual slices of structures that can be used to form a 3D picture, making it possible to identify very small but clinically significant lesions (such as tooth root abscesses) amongst very complex anatomy.

Additionally, the RVC staff recognized the risks associated with general anesthesia and was keen to avoid administering it unnecessarily. In 2009, the RVC changed the configuration of its CT set up in a way that allows examinations to be performed in a standing position, using a specially adapted platform to allow horses’ heads and necks to be moved in and out of the scanner without being placed under general anesthesia.

“We are very excited to introduce this innovation in equine imaging,” said Renate Weller, DrMedVet, PhD, MRCVS, MScVetEd, FHEA, professor of comparative imaging and biomechanics at the RVC. “This is a great opportunity to improve our diagnostic ability for neck problems in the horse and we expect that our understanding of neck problems will improve tremendously.”

Case Study

A 12-year-old Cob-cross, used for general riding, presented to the RVC with neck pain and the owner reported increased stumbling. When the staff examined the horse he showed mild ataxia and impaired neck movement to both sides. Radiographs showed mark enlargement of the left facet joint between the 5th and 6th cervical vertebrae.

To further characteriae this lesion and to evaluate the involvement of the spinal cord the staff performed a CT scan.

The right joint was markedly enlarged compared to the left one, and bony protrusions were seen around the joint and extending into the vertebral canal. These changes indicate osteoarthritis of the joint, which can cause pain and limited ability of the horse to move his neck.

The spinal cord, which runs in the middle of the vertebral canal, can become compressed and result in ataxia (incoordination), the horse becoming a “wobbler.” The changes around the spinal cord are often difficult or impossible to appreciate on normal radiographs and require myelograms (radiographs under general anesthesia after the injection of a contrast agent around the spinal cord) to identify. The RVC said the new CT scanner will enable its staff to obtain a diagnosis in many cases without the need of these more invasive techniques.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More