We are currently developing a small animal positron emission tomography (PET) scanner with a design goal of 1 microlitre (1 mm3) image resolution. The detectors consist of a 12 × 12 array of 1 × 1 × 10 mm lutetium oxyorthosilicate (LSO) scintillator crystals coupled to a 64-channel photomultiplier tube (PMT) via 5 cm long optical fibre bundles. The optical fibre connection allows a high detector packing fraction despite the dead space surrounding the active region of the PMT. Optical fibre bundles made from different types of glass were tested for light transmission, and also their effects on crystal identification and energy resolution, and compared to direct coupling of the LSO arrays to the PMTs. We also investigated the effects of extramural absorber (EMA) in the fibre bundles. Based on these results, fibre bundles manufactured from F2 glass were selected. We built three pairs of prototype detectors (directly coupled LSO array, fibre bundle without EMA and fibre bundle with EMA) and measured flood histograms, energy resolution, intrinsic spatial resolution and timing resolution. The results demonstrated an intrinsic spatial resolution (FWHM) of 1.12 mm (directly coupled), 1.23 mm (fibre bundle without EMA coupling) and 1.27 mm (fibre bundle with EMA coupling) using an approximately 500 μm diameter Na-22 point source. Using a 330 μm outer diameter steel needle line source filled with F-18, spatial resolution for the detector with the EMA optical fibre bundle improved to 1.05 mm. The respective timing and energy FWHM values were 1.96 ns, 21% (directly coupled), 2.20 ns, 23% (fibre bundle without EMA) and 2.99 ns, 30% (fibre bundle with EMA). The peak-to-valley ratio in the flood histograms was better with EMA (5:1) compared to the optical fibre bundle without EMA (2.5:1), due to the decreased optical cross-talk. In comparison to the detectors used in our current generation microPET scanner, these detectors substantially improve on the spatial resolution, preserve the timing resolution and provide adequate energy resolution for a modern high-resolution animal PET tomograph.