Diagnostic Imaging

Nuclear Medicine / Scintigraphy

Nuclear scintigraphy is the use of small doses of radioactive substances to diagnose illness in humans and animals. A small dose of radiopharmaceutical will be administered to your pet and that substance will localize in certain organs of the body based on the type of study and radioisotope administered. The substance will then give off a small amount of radiation that will be detectable by a specialized camera, which in turn will display images on a computer screen. These images will help the radiologist determine the structure and function of specific organs in the body, and will help identify potential diseases in these organs. Three types of nuclear scintigraphy exams performed include:

  •   Transplenic portal scintigraphy
  •   Thyroid Scintigraphy
  •   Bone Scintigraphy

Transplenic portal scintigraphy is used to identify abnormal blood vessels in and around the liver that disrupt the normal flow of blood from the intestines to the liver. These abnormal blood vessels are called shunts, and dogs with shunts can have abnormal liver function which can show up on routine bloodwork as well as more specialized bloodwork that your veterinarian may recommend. Dogs with portosystemic shunts can show signs such as abnormal mentation, failure to thrive, and increased urination and drinking, among others.

Thyroid scintigraphy is commonly used in the diagnosis of hyperthyroidism in cats as well as to help in the diagnosis and staging of thyroid cancers in dogs and cats.

Bone scintigraphy helps identify several types of lesions in the bones, including bone cancers, arthritis, subtle fractures, bone infections, and developmental bone diseases. Scintigraphy is much more sensitive than x-rays at detecting the subtle bone lesions and provides an easier means to look at all the bones in the body.

The small dose of radioactive substance administered to your pet is of relatively low energy and it is extremely unlikely to cause any adverse reactions in your pet. The radioactive substance decays into benign substances that are not radioactive. Your pet will stay the day with us to allow time for that substance to decay. In rare cases, your pet may have to stay overnight to allow more time for the radioactive substance to decay.

Your pet will be sedated for part of the exam. Sedative drugs carry a small, but real risk of complications, including, in very rare instances, death. Your pet will be screened prior to sedation and will be monitored during sedation to attempt to prevent any adverse reactions.

An intravenous catheter will be placed in one of your pets legs. This will require shaving a small area of your pets leg. In addition, if your pet is undergoing a transplenic portal scintigraphy study, a small area on the left side of the abdomen will be shaved. Transplenic portal scintigraphy requires inserting a very small needle into the spleen, which can, in rare cases, cause some bleeding. The risk of significant hemorrhage is very small, but occasionally, complications from such bleeding can occur. Our veterinarians take extreme caution during the procedure to prevent this complication from occurring.