What is the advantage of robotics in equine tomography?

The robotic arms that extend around the horse look like two giant desk lamps: one on the right and one on the left, each over three meters high. They hum softly, bowing, circling the back leg of the horse standing in the examination room. Those big white metal arms found at Equitum’s Horse Clinic are a sensation—for two reasons.

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The robotic arms rotate around the anesthetized horse.

On the other hand, because the robot’s arms have computed tomography (CT) technology – thanks to the moving arms, the horses can be examined while standing, so they don’t have to go under general anesthesia as usual.

On the other hand, there are only three such machines in the world: one in Chicago (USA), one in Dubai – and a third in the Equitum Equitum Clinic in Lumens (Flanders / Belgium), less than an hour from the German border. million euros the cost of purchasing this special device. What it can do, when it is used and what it costs:

horse safety

A common CT machine consists of a rotating ring into which a horse is driven; The loop then scans parts of the animal’s body such as the legs or cervical spine. The horse must be sedated for this examination. However, this is always dangerous: “With horses, you think twice before you give them general anesthesia – because they can break their legs when they wake up,” clinic director Tom Marin explains. Despite all the precautions in guard rooms at equine clinics, this residual risk still exists.

CT . robotic


The image generated by the X-ray of the posterior arm is captured on the front panel.

Accurate diagnosis

Computed tomography makes it possible to obtain three-dimensional images, which are necessary for diagnosis, for example, when fractures or tumors are suspected. The equine CT loop is modeled after the human loop.

The difficulty with it: It does not fit the whole horse. The new robot solves this problem: “In a robotic CT scan, the ring is replaced by two large robotic arms, so the whole body can be examined,” says surgeon Dimitri Kadic, “The diagnosis is very accurate and fast.”

Less time pressure

For clinicians in the clinic, robotic CT scans have a significant advantage in terms of time: diagnosis and surgery are separate. With the usual CT scan, the horse is already under general anesthesia and surgery is performed immediately afterwards so that the horse does not need to be sedated twice.

On the other hand, images from the CT robot can be safely discussed, and surgery can be planned with less time pressure. The robot could be used prophylactically on sporting horses to prevent minor injuries from being overlooked: for example, one of the national team’s Belgian show jumping horses was examined prior to its use in Tokyo at the Olympic Games.

lower price or cheaper

A scan with a CT robot is cheaper than a regular CT scan: the cost of an area image including scan is 780 euros (plus VAT), and 1050 euros due to anesthesia in a regular CT scan. Each additional area in the CT robot costs 200 euros.

Small downside

The only drawback is the relatively small area covered by the robot: some structures can be better imaged in a ring-shaped CT scan, which covers a larger area. “I prefer recording a horse’s head in a circular tomogram, because I have it all in one image from ears to nostrils,” explains Zoe Joostens, the team’s imaging specialist. By the way, the head is the only part of the body that also fits into the usual ring for CT while standing, so it also requires only anesthesia.

scanning process

Horses are anesthetized to enter it; After all, the robotic arms rotate around them at a distance of only 30 centimeters. If the horse is frightened, there is an emergency stop button. The black marks are then affixed to the horse, either as glue dots on the body or as gaiters on the leg. The CT robot’s cameras are based on this: “The computer uses them to calculate potential movements. There’s a lot of math behind that,” explains Zoe Justins.

The single image is then created using the CT robot in just 30 seconds: X-rays come from one robot arm, and a plate with crosshairs is attached to a second, where the image is saved. The whole process is done quickly: “The horse is ready in 15 minutes,” says Zoe Justins.


Before purchasing the device, Joostens traveled to the USA with a colleague to get a look at the technology. Clinic Director Tom Marin shared his thoughts with a colleague from Dubai who has experience using the device there. Because there are currently many CT technologies that deviate from the usual ring shape, such as those that extend from the ground. Such a device is found in the Hegau veterinary clinic on Lake Constance. However, with the “Asto-CT Equina” only the legs can be examined.

Clinic head Tom Marin opted for an automated computed tomography (CT) scan. It took six months to prepare the room: special floors and floor anchors were installed for the three-ton device, along with the cameras. The room is also suitable for operating theaters.

possible use

After the first four months, the Equitom team is more than satisfied. About 95 horses have been examined so far, for example due to suspected broken bones, cancer, or neurological diseases of the back or cervical spine. “For me, the ideal is that I can ideally combine an automated CT scan with an MRI, which shows more fine detail,” Joostens says. “This way, I can recognize the smallest injuries, such as microfractures, and act accordingly.”

An example of such an injury is a Middle Eastern race horse. And she was flown to Belgium “because she wasn’t winning as much as she used to be. And you can’t even talk about a slight lameness,” explains Zoe Justins. “This is an indication of typical stress injuries when you notice: Horses are no longer running at 100 but only at 95 percent.” The stallion was examined by a CT robot. Diagnosis: periostitis. “In our rehabilitation department, he was working on a special training plan. So he kept fit without the stress of injury,” explains Zoe Joostens. A month later the stallion came home – healthy.

Equitom Equitom

The high-tech clinic focuses on the following specialties:

• surgery
• Internal medicine
• Medical Imaging
• Orthopedics
• Rehabilitation (rehabilitation center with sports coach, treadmill, pasture)


• Ultra-large diameter CT scan
• scintigraphy
• Two x-ray rooms and two ultrasound rooms
• Two operating rooms with glass walls

Contact: Equitom Paardenklinik, 3560 Meldert-Lummen, Belgium
Website: www.equitom.be

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