Newly purchased diagnostic equipment will support animal health.

How do you get a 450-pound anesthetized lion into a CAT scan machine? “There’s lots of shifting and arranging and pushing and getting him just right,” says Dr. Randy Junge, vice president of animal health at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

Last week, zoo staff did just that. The zoo’s 14-year-old lion, Tomo, who came to Columbus in 2006 as part of a breeding recommendation from the African Lion Species Survival plan and who has fathered three litters of cubs, was suffering from infected gums following a tooth extraction.

To find out the extent of the infection, zoo medical staff turned to computerized axial tomography, or CAT technology, which provides a series of cross-section images that can be combined to see the patient—animal or human—in three dimensions.

“Literally, a CAT scan on a big cat,” joked Junge, speaking for the camera in a new video released by the zoo documenting the procedure.

Thanks to a recent purchase, the zoo had the machine for the job:  a refurbished GE LightSpeed 16-slice CAT scanner recently purchased with donated funds. Columbus is one of only six zoos in the country with the technology. The device will be particularly useful, according to a release, for getting a look at the interior of animals with shells, plates or spiny exteriors—and for diagnosing big guys like Tomo without having to transport them to OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine or MedVet Medical Center for Pets in Worthington, as they have in the past.

Built for humans and rated for up to 500 pounds, the machine “groaned and grumbled a little bit” under the weight of the 450-pound lion, says Junge, “but in the end, our pictures came out just perfectly.” You can get a peek at the process in the video below.

Last summer, the zoo unveiled a 17,000 square-foot renovation that, among other things, paved the way for installation of the new device by creating a specially-outfitted room to house it. “This machine will play an absolutely critical role in identifying potential or unseen health concerns within the animals in our care,” said Junge in a statement.

And Tomo? The images showed that the infection is local, and should be resolved with oral antifungal medication, after which he can go back to doing what he does best: prowling, roaring and being a dad.

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