How Much Does a Pet Scan Cost for Your Dog? The Price May Surprise You

Introduction

A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is an advanced imaging test that produces detailed 3D images of the inside of a dog’s body. PET scans work by detecting increased activity in certain tissues, helping to identify areas of disease or abnormality (source).

PET scans may be recommended for dogs to diagnose and stage cancer, investigate neurological issues, or evaluate other conditions that cannot be fully assessed with MRI or CT scans. By revealing cellular and metabolic processes, PET scans can often provide vets with valuable information to guide diagnosis and treatment. They allow vets to pinpoint the location of tumors and analyze how aggressive a cancer may be (source).

When a PET Scan May Be Recommended for Dogs

A PET scan may be recommended by a veterinarian for a dog in the following situations:

Cancer Detection and Staging – PET scans are often used to detect various types of canine cancers such as lymphoma, osteosarcoma, soft tissue sarcomas, and lung tumors. The scans can show precise anatomical location of tumors and determine if the cancer has metastasized to other areas of the body for accurate staging.

According to the American College of Veterinary Radiology, PET scans have shown promise for improved detection, staging, and monitoring of response to cancer treatment in dogs [1].

Neurological Issues – PET scans can also help diagnose certain neurological disorders in dogs that cause changes in brain cell activity and function. These may include canine cognitive dysfunction, seizure disorders, encephalitis, and brain tumors.

Cardiac Issues – PET scans allow detailed imaging of the heart to assess areas of decreased blood flow and heart disease. This can aid in diagnosing cardiomyopathies and assessing damage after a heart attack.

Orthopedic Issues – Damaged bone and joint tissues from injuries or degenerative diseases like arthritis can also be evaluated with PET scans.

In general, vets may consider a PET scan for a dog when needing more definitive diagnostic imaging than CT or MRI scans can provide.

PET Scan Procedure for Dogs

veterinarian monitoring anesthetized dog on pet scanner

The procedure for a PET scan in dogs is similar to how it is performed in humans, with a few key differences. Dogs must be placed under general anesthesia before the scan can begin, as they must lie perfectly still for the duration of the scan. This anesthesia is administered by a veterinarian to ensure the dog is fully sedated throughout the process.

Once anesthetized, the dog is positioned on their back on the scanning table. Velcro straps or sandbags may be used to help keep the dog in the proper position. A small amount of radioactive tracer material is then injected into the dog intravenously, which allows the PET scanner to detect metabolic activity throughout the body. The tracer material commonly used for dogs is FDG (fluorodeoxyglucose), which works similarly to glucose to show where cells are metabolically active.

The dog remains on the scanner table for around 30-60 minutes as the FDG circulates through their system. During this time, the dog is carefully monitored by veterinary staff. After sufficient time has passed for the FDG to accumulate in the body, the actual PET scan takes place. This scan can take 20-40 minutes to complete as the table slowly moves through the donut-shaped PET scanner.

The PET scan for dogs takes longer compared to humans because dogs tend to have slower metabolic rates. As well, dogs’ small size requires more detailed, high-resolution images which lengthens the scan duration. Throughout the procedure, veterinary staff observe the anesthetized dog closely to ensure they remain fully sedated and in the proper position. Once the PET scan is complete, the dog is allowed to fully recover from anesthesia before being discharged.

Effectiveness of PET Scans for Dogs

Research has shown that PET scans can be highly effective for diagnosing various conditions in dogs. One study evaluating the accuracy of 18F-FDG PET for detecting metastatic disease in dogs found that PET had 100% sensitivity and 83% specificity (Willcox et al., 2021). This indicates that PET scans are extremely sensitive for identifying metastases but may have some false positives.

Another review looked at the role of PET imaging for non-lymphomatous, non-osteogenic tumors in dogs (Spriet et al., 2019). The authors concluded that PET appears superior to CT alone for detecting distant metastases. However, results varied widely between studies, indicating that more research is still needed.

Overall, current veterinary research suggests PET imaging has high accuracy and sensitivity, making it a useful diagnostic tool for assessing metastatic disease, some types of cancer, infection, inflammation, and certain neurological disorders in dogs. However, factors like cost, availability, and potential risks may limit its routine use compared to other imaging modalities.

Cost and Pricing Factors

The cost of a PET scan for dogs can vary significantly based on a number of factors. According to GoodRX, the average cost ranges from $1,300 to over $4,600 depending on whether you have pet insurance coverage or not [1]. Some of the main factors that influence the pricing of a PET scan for your dog include:

Location – PET scans are performed at specialty veterinary imaging centers. Prices tend to be higher in major metro areas and lower in rural areas.

Type of Facility – University veterinary hospitals and private specialty clinics will charge more than a local vet’s office.

Anesthesia and Monitoring Fees – Your dog will require anesthesia for the PET scan, which adds to the cost. Expect fees for anesthetic drugs and monitoring by a vet tech.

Scan Extent – A full body PET scan will be more expensive than a localized scan of just the head/brain or heart.

Rx Radiopharmaceuticals – The radiotracers used for the scan are expensive. Prices vary based on the type of radiotracer.

syringe with radioactive tracer medication

Image Processing – Complex 3D reconstruction of PET scan images may cost extra.

In general, PET scan costs for dogs range from $2,200 on the low end for a basic, localized scan, up to $12,000+ for an extensive scan at a specialty hospital [2].

Payment Options

There are several payment options to cover the cost of a PET scan for your dog:

Pet Insurance – Many pet insurance plans cover diagnostic imaging like PET scans, but the level of coverage can vary. According to TrustedPals, pet insurance may cover 50-90% of the cost after you meet your deductible. Reimbursement percentages and limits depend on the plan.

Payment Plans – Some veterinary clinics and imaging centers offer payment plans to spread out the cost of a PET scan over multiple months. This makes the procedure more affordable by dividing payments.

Credit Cards – Since PET scans are expensive, most veterinarians accept credit cards. CareCredit is a popular healthcare credit card with special financing offers, such as no interest if paid in full within 6-12 months.

Non-Profits – Organizations like the Magic Bullet Fund provide financial assistance for dogs in need of diagnostic imaging and cancer treatment. Their application process considers financial need and other factors.

Fundraising – Crowdfunding sites or personal fundraisers allow owners to raise donations from family, friends, and other supporters to cover veterinary costs.

When PET Scans May Not Be Recommended

While PET scans can be a useful diagnostic tool for dogs, there are some situations where they have limited usefulness or may not be recommended:

dog receiving ultrasound scan

Certain cancers or tumors – PET scans are not helpful for imaging some types of cancers like thyroid or testicular cancer, so other imaging modalities may be preferred (source). PET scans may also miss small tumors or metastases under 1 cm in size.

Brain scans – PET has limited use in imaging the brain due to high normal background uptake of FDG. An MRI may be preferred for assessing certain brain conditions (source).

Inflammatory or infectious processes – PET scans detect increased metabolic activity and may light up with inflammation or infection, reducing their specificity for cancer (source).

Recent radiation therapy or surgery – Radioactive uptake may be temporarily altered near treatment sites, so PET is not recommended soon after these treatments.

Cost concerns – The high cost of PET scans along with availability limits may restrict their use. Other cheaper imaging tests may be done first before a PET is considered.

If the cause of illness is already known or if other imaging is sufficient for diagnosis and staging, PET scans may provide little additional clinical benefit despite the high cost.

Risks and Side Effects

As with any medical procedure, PET scans do carry some risks and potential side effects for dogs. The main risks and side effects to be aware of include:

Anesthesia – Dogs need to remain very still during the PET scan, which usually requires general anesthesia. There are always risks associated with anesthesia, including allergic reactions and, in very rare cases, death. The risk is reduced by evaluating your dog’s overall health first and having an experienced veterinary anesthesiologist monitor them during the procedure.

Radiation exposure – The radioactive tracer used in a PET scan does expose dogs to a small amount of radiation. The level of radiation is considered safe for diagnostic imaging. However, dogs that get multiple PET scans over time do accumulate radiation exposure that could potentially increase cancer risk years later. This is usually only a concern for working dogs like police dogs who undergo repeated scans [1].

Allergic reactions – As with any substance introduced into the body, some dogs may have an allergic reaction to the injected tracer. Mild itching, hives, or vomiting may occur. Severe allergic reactions are extremely rare if your vet first screens for any drug allergies.

Needle injection site reaction – Mild pain, bruising or infection could occur at the injection site where the tracer is administered. Proper sterile technique helps minimize this risk.

Increased urination – Due to the nature of how the tracer works, your dog may need to urinate more frequently for a day or so after the scan. Be sure they have easy access to go outdoors.

Alternatives to PET Scans

While PET scans can be useful for diagnosing certain conditions in dogs, vets may recommend other diagnostic imaging tools instead of or in addition to a PET scan. Some alternatives include:

X-rays: Digital X-rays are a common first step many vets take when evaluating potential health issues in dogs. They can help identify bone injuries, lung problems, intestinal obstructions, and more. X-rays expose dogs to some radiation but less than a PET scan. They are also widely available and cost a fraction of a PET scan (source).

Ultrasound: Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of internal organs and tissues. It can help vets evaluate the heart, liver, kidneys, spleen, and other areas without radiation. Ultrasounds are relatively inexpensive compared to PET scans and may suffice for assessing some conditions (source).

MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses magnets and radio waves to produce very detailed 3D images. It excels at soft tissue imaging without radiation risks. MRI can be preferable to PET for neurological issues, cancers in some locations, joint problems, and more. But MRI machines are less widely available and scans usually cost more than PET scans.

CT: Computed tomography (CT) combines X-rays and computer modeling to create cross-sectional images. It provides more detail than standard X-rays. CT is often used to evaluate bone, lung and organ problems. But CT does involve radiation exposure, sometimes higher doses than PET scans.

The choice depends on each dog’s specific symptoms and the conditions the vet wants to investigate. In many cases, a combination of tests may be recommended for the most complete diagnostic picture.

veterinarian reviewing diagnostic results with owner

Questions to Ask Your Vet

When your veterinarian recommends a PET scan for your dog, it’s important to ask questions to fully understand if it’s the right testing option. Here are some key questions to consider:

1. Why are you recommending a PET scan specifically? What will it show that other tests can’t?1

2. Are there any non-invasive or less expensive options we should consider first before a PET scan? 2

3. What are the risks and side effects of a PET scan for my dog? How much radiation exposure is involved? 3

4. How accurate are PET scans for diagnosing cancer or other conditions in dogs? What are the chances of false positives or false negatives? 2

5. Will the PET scan definitively diagnose the problem or will we need additional tests after? 1

6. How much does a PET scan cost for a dog? Does pet insurance cover any of the cost? Are there any other options if it is not affordable for me? 2

Asking the right questions can help you better understand if a PET scan is the right choice for accurately diagnosing your dog’s condition.

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