Scooby is 15 years old. He’s a chestnut-colored German warmblood horse. His specialty is dressage. He’s an expert in show riding. But when he began limping in March, no one at first knew where the trouble was.
In April, UC-Davis veterinarians hoisted all 1,300 pounds of him onto an examining table and placed tubes for oxygen and anesthesia gas in his mouth. His right hind leg poked though a wide circular tube in a positron emission tomography, or PET, scanner. UC Davis was the first veterinary medical hospital anywhere to use such a machine on horses.
By injecting the leg with a weak dose of a radioactive substance that attaches to areas of abnormal bone, the veterinarians were able to see detailed images of Scooby’s injury.
“This can detect lesions missed by MRI and CT scans, which could prevent catastrophic breakdowns in racehorses,” said Dr. Mathieu Spriet, an associate professor of surgical and radiological sciences. And the low-level radiation doesn’t hurt the horse.
Scooby’s scans found a small crack that led to inflammation nearby. After months of medication and rest, Spriet said, he is back to being ridden at a walk and trot pace and appears to be on the right track.
Laura Budd with Scooby during a PET scan at UC Davis, the only hospital that does PET scans on horses.