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 News :. Animal magnetism helps give Kiki the all-clear

THERE were no thoughts of gum leaves picked up in the scan of Kiki the koala's brain, but fortunately the young wild animal was cleared of neurological damage by Australia's first veterinary MRI machine.

Kiki was rescued in the wild and delivered to Healesville Sanctuary three weeks ago. The injured koala's scan was performed at the Melbourne Veterinary Referral Centre on a "Vet MR" machine designed especially for animals. Veterinarian Dr Simon Kudnig said the $500,000 machine was an extremely useful addition to the centre, which previously had to transport animals to human hospitals for MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans during "out of hours" time.

"We'd usually do it at the end of the day when humans have had their procedures. It hasn't been ideal, that's for sure," he said.

Healesville Sanctuary vet Phillipa Mason said she requested a scan for Kiki because she was blind and showing signs of neurological damage. "We suspected she might have some kind of brain lesion, which is difficult to diagnose, so the MRI is helping the process of elimination enormously. It means any decision you make is based on actual fact, not just supposition," she said.

Dr Kudnig said the scanner, which uses magnetism, radio waves and a computer to create images of the body, helps diagnose disease and pinpoint problems. "There are a number of different nervous disorders we can pick up with an MR that we can't see with any other diagnostic tool. And it makes us more confident doing radical surgeries because we know precisely where the problem is and how to get to it," he said.

The procedure costs about $1000, but Dr Kudnig said most pet owners attending the clinic did not shy away from the cost.

"We see a bit of a biased pet ownership here because we're a referral specialist centre, but it does come as a bit of a shock to some people," he said. "Having said that, it's amazing what people will do to save their animals."

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