Taking the examination of exotic animals to the next level

Dr Maria Ardiaca tends to over 3000 sick animals a year, but there’s not a puppy in sight. Instead, her clinic treats axolotls, geckos – even minipigs.
An ultrasound of the ‘Pecten oculi’ (structure of blood vessels belonging to the choroid in the eye of a bird) of an orange winged amazon (Amazona amazonica). In the top left corner is the Canon logo. The rest of the screen is black and grey, except for a pink highlighted section of interest in the middle. There are numbers and letters to the right of the screen, relating to measurements on the ultrasound.

Pythons, bearded dragons and cockatiels are not the traditional fauna in Spain, but they regularly arrive at the Los Sauces Veterinary Centre, a leading pet clinic in Madrid. Alongside nine fellow veterinarians and seven nurses, centre director Dr Maria Ardiaca attends to around 3,500 patients per year, from small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and even invertebrates.

Specialising in exotic pets can be challenging, not least because of the vast diversity in their anatomies and physiologies. For example, Dr Ardiaca’s avian patients include African grey parrots, budgerigars, cockatiels, lovebirds and other parrots, as well as canary finches and pigeons. They also regularly see rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, degus, rats, hamsters, ferrets and minipigs. And, of course, their fair share of reptiles; turtles and tortoises, bearded dragons, geckos, boas, pythons, milk and corn snakes. In the fish and amphibians’ hospital, it’s not uncommon for Dr Ardiaca and her colleagues to treat axolotls, goldfish, betta fish, frogs and toads. It’s an extraordinary mix, that requires the centre to provide a comprehensive around-the-clock service, offering consultation, diagnosis, hospitalisation, surgery and anaesthesia. They also have an internal laboratory where blood work, cytological or coprological analyses are performed.

For diagnostic imaging and image-guided biopsies, most examinations are performed in-house, but the team also works with specialists and advisors in different fields to offer the best options for their patients. Los Sauces veterinarians are able to perform direct digital radiology, endoscopy and ultrasound examinations. But for CT and MR studies, they work with specialised veterinary imaging centres, Diez Bru Diagnostico por Imagen Veterinario and with the Multidisciplinary Institute (UCM) in Madrid. However, to complete their diagnostic imaging capacities, Dr Ardiaca and her team recently introduced the new Canon Medical Aplio i800 ultrasound to the centre. The system will help perform abdominal and thoracic examinations, ultrasound-guided biopsies and nerve blocks, as well as echocardiography scans for an estimated 600 exotic patients every year, with this likely to increase as more and more people adopt such animals as pets.

A dark haired woman in blue scrubs and purple latex gloves sits in front of a computer screen with assorted medical devices surrounding it. She has turned from the screen to pose for the camera.

Dr Maria Ardiaca’s animal patients come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s important to have an ultrasound that can be easily configured to their bodies, as well as giving her extremely high-quality images.

Besides the high-resolution images, for which Canon Medical are well-known and respected, the Aplio i800 is a highly robust and long-lasting machine, ideal for working with patients that are known to be a little uncooperative at times. It is also perfect for another very simple reason: “The wide choice of transducers [the probe that connects with the body] is suitable for all patients, from the largest to smallest companion animals,” explains Dr Ardiaca. There are three configurations in particular that Dr Ardiaca and her fellow veterinarians find most useful. First is a ‘sector probe’, which is used when performing echocardiography in small animals (“It is a significant improvement over my old 7MHz transducer in obtaining images of my patients’ small hearts at high frame rate.”). The second, a ‘Linear Probe for small superficial parts’, and finally the 22MHz hockey stick transducer, which she uses for the vast majority of her patients. “Most weigh less than a kilogram and many are thinner than 2-3 cm,” she explains. “This equipment offers outstanding resolution.” The design of this ground-breaking transducer also helps to reduce costs by providing better imaging regardless of the patient condition.

The Aplio i800 ultrasound also offers SMI or ‘Superb Microvascular Imaging’, which is another unique and fascinating technology. The SMI software is used to visualise blood flow and can be used in a wide range of settings, from liver and kidney tumours to ophthalmology, and can even give a detailed view of the pecten (a structure of blood vessels) in both reptiles and birds’ eyes. This technology is gaining momentum in many other areas of pet imaging as “SMI enables us to evaluate perfusion in the smallest body parts, such as the intestines of small rodents, or the adrenal gland or lymph nodes of ferrets, with really subtle low blood flow.”

As you might imagine, exotic veterinary medicine requires a considerable effort from professionals to keep up to date with the latest advances. Throughout the year, Dr Ardiaca and her colleagues welcome dozens of both Spanish and foreign veterinarians and students who want to improve their knowledge and skills in exotic animal medicine. And while their priority is to treat the animals in their care, the work of Dr Ardiaca and those in her field extends far beyond just treatment. “All of us actively participate in national and international conferences to improve our training and present our scientific contributions,” she explains. “Our goal is to actively contribute to the development of the field and promote information, and thereby contribute to animal welfare and the reduction of illegal trade and capture of exotic and wild animals.” She is currently looking forward to future collaboration with Canon Medical for projects in research and continuing education.

This article is kindly abstracted from Canon Medical Systems Europe VISIONS Magazine Veterinary Special.

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