Big Cat Gets a CAT Scan as Veterinarians Investigate Lion's Toothache

Tomo the African lion had a gum infection, but veterinarians were unsure how severe it was.

When Tomo the African lion had a toothache, veterinarians treated him as they would have treated any of his big cat relatives — with a CAT scan.

Keepers at the Columbus Zoo suspected the 14-year-old lion had an infection in his gums, but weren't sure how severe it was.

"We were a little concerned about Tomo," the zoo's vice president of animal health, Dr. Randy Junge, said. "He's older. He's almost 15 years old. He's had this dental issue for several weeks now. We were concerned it might have spread."

When it didn't heal on its own, they decided to take a closer look at his jaw using their zoo's new CAT scan, made for humans up to 500 pounds.

"Tomo is 450 pounds — he's pushing the limit," said Junge. "The machine moaned and groaned a little bit but we were able to get the image done." 

It also took several medical experts to get the big cat into place.

Thankfully, the scan revealed the infection was localized, and will be healed within two months with oral antifungal medication.

"Our images came out perfectly and we got a very good diagnosis," Junge said.

Tomo has been at the Columbus Zoo since 2006 and has fathered three litters of cubs since his arrival.

Junge said he is now optimistic about the CAT scan helping other animals at the zoo. Turtles and other hard-shelled animals have a hard time being diagnosed with X-ray technology since they only end up getting a picture of the shell and not what's underneath.