Before I go any further, I have a confession to make: I was originally going to use this column to make fun of the extent some people go to care for their pets. Don't get me wrong. I'm not anti-pet. I like pets. Over the years, our home has been a menagerie, sheltering an assortment of dogs, cats, gerbils, hamsters, frogs, and goldfish. I don't own a fur coat. I like Bambi. Look at my name: My initials are PET, for crying out loud.
But an article I read recently in The Boston Globe really got me thinking that some people go a might too far in providing medical care for their pets. The writer talked about pet owners requesting MRIs for Fido and Fluffy, and of veterinary surgeons at one leading center performing those procedures at 2am because that was the only time the equipment wasn't being used on humans. Now, you could consider that an example of admirable pet devotion (MRIs aren't cheap) and dedicated patient care. I didn't. But what really got to me was the example I read of one pet owner requesting and receiving radiation treatment for his goldfish. A goldfish! "C'mon," I thought, "how long do goldfish live anyway? Gimme a break."
So, I started talking around the office about how ridiculous this all was, making little jokes like,"Boy, that's an expensive way to get fried fish." But no one laughed. Instead people told me how important their pets were to them, the comfort they provided, the loyalty pets show. Oh, I hated to hear all that. I wanted to poke fun, but now my conscience was bothering me. I began to think, "Maybe there's a technology story here," and I went on the hunt for medical devices designed for pets. There aren't many.
One of the reasons, says Dr. Steven Rowell, director of the Tufts University Veterinary Hospital, is cost. While equipment can be less expensive than that for humans, it's still pricey. Rowell recently purchased a gamma camera for doing bone scans for horses. It cost about a quarter of a million dollars. That's half the price of a similar machine for humans, but still a lot of money.
Then, there's the cost of using the equipment. People think that an MRI scan for an animal should be less expensive than one for a human, says Rowell, but he points out that there is actually more work involved. "We have to anesthetize the animals, and that adds an added dimension—and different facilities," he says.
Solon, OH-based Universal Medical Systems designs and manufactures a range of sophisticated equipment for diagnosis and treatment of humans and animals, including CT and MRI scanners. President Dave Zavagno says the primary difference between an MRI machine for a human and one for an animal is the size of the magnet. Fido and Fluffy get smaller magnets, farm animals get larger ones—and larger tables to lie on. Even with the larger equipment, says Tufts' Rowell, it's often tough to get the animals' limbs in. Still, the equipment is versatile: Rowell says occasionally he will get a request to use equipment designed for horses and cows to treat really obese people.
I'll leave you with that image in your mind—and with the thought that I have changed my attitude about how ridiculous it is to use sophisticated medical devices on pets. After all, the goldfish is still living, and presumably providing companionship for its owner. And, I read that a mongrol dog in the U.K. recently helped its owner win a local lottery five times in a row. Now, that's what I call Man's Best Friend.
Reach Teague at email@example.com.