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Updated: Jun 15, 2021

Thermography is a non-invasive imaging modality that has a wide range of clinical applications. It is also known as thermal imaging or infrared imaging. Heat produced by the body is detected by infra-red sensitive camera and then converted into an image called thermogram. Thermography aids the early diagnosis of different conditions in both humans and animals. After medical use, it has become a common diagnostic tool in equine medicine using thermal indicators.

Horses are at risk of injuries during their work and performance, either through prolonged wear and tear and or acute injuries. Early detection of a sub-clinical conditions can prevent it to develop in to a major problem. Conditions such as lameness, kissing spines and bowed tendons can be career-threatening injuries for a performance horse. Even minor injuries can severely affect the life conditions of a horse if overlooked for a period of time. By early diagnosis, huge veterinary costs can be prevented. And above all, it provides a better lifestyle to your horse fellow.

Thermography works by detecting the changes in temperature of a horse’s body. When an infection or injury occurs, the body responds by initiating the inflammation cascade in response to the injury. This rise in temperature is due to defensive mechanism of body called inflammation.

Fever can be detected by using a thermometer, however, minor and unnoticeable injuries cause very little change in the temperature of that specific area. Thermographic camera points out these small changes in temperature and helps in early detection. According to research study, infrared thermography accurately identifies local hypothermia due to pressure injury before the visual recognition of injury.

Applications of thermography

Using thermography in equines, we can limit a minor injury to develop in to a clinical condition and also monitor the health of horse during rehabilitation and training. Some applications of thermography which can ease help you in managing your horses' well being are:

1. Early diagnosis

Early diagnosis of an abnormal condition is a major benefit of equine thermography. While discussing the sensitivity of Infrared thermography in Diagnosis and Management of Lameness in the Horse, Author explains that early signs of inflammation can be detected weeks before signs of lameness.

Before going towards a serious injury, a ligament or tendon faces gradual damage. For example, when a torn ligament is not early diagnosed, it keeps on facing the pressure during training and workout. Consequently, it develops in to a substantial problem and put the horse at the risk of serious injury with a heavy vet bill on the side.

To prevent such an unfavorable situation, adopting equine thermography is a proactive approach. It’s the way to listen your horse at an early stage and provide him required treatment and rehabilitation.

2. Complete Rehabilitation

Infrared thermography can be used to monitor the recovery of horse during rehabilitation. It is important to know that, which therapeutic treatment is helping in rehabilitation and which is not. And how to know that when your horse should back for training again?

Complete rehabilitation of horse needs consistent monitoring of the damage and injuries. By keenly observing the thermograms, we can find asymmetrical patterns in thermal images balance over time in improving horses. It not only provides us accurate picture but also confidence about the health and wellness of our horses.

3. Equine lameness

Lameness is as prevalent in horses as obesity in humans. And if you are a horse man, you definitely know the meaning of “No hoof, No horse”. A study designed by Malaysian Journal of Veterinary Research found the prevalence of metabolic disorders and lameness in 67 endurance horses. Results revealed that 17.1% of horses were eliminated from race due to lameness.

Thermography has shown to be the practical aid for the early diagnosis of lameness. It detects heat before it is sensible to physical examination. When a horse receives immediate attention and rehabilitation, the risk of major injuries are minimized.

Thermographic Camera

Thermographic camera is used to scan a suspected body part for injury. As compared to the lenses in actual camera, it uses infrared sensors. After careful scanning following standardized protocols, an image is produced showing the different colors at different body parts. The technician then analyzes the images via professional software.

Only professionally trained veterinarians or therapist can accurately proceed the thermography and give accurate reading of results. The right equipment with standardized protocols and training are necessary for interpretation of the results.

How a thermography camera works?

To understand the working principle of thermography, first we should understand the electromagnetic spectrum. Electromagnetic spectrum has the rays of different wavelengths from smallest wavelength like X-rays to larger wavelength like radio waves. In the whole spectrum, there is a little portion of visible rays. This portion starts from red color and ends at the blue. Due to limitation of our eyes, we can’t see rays beyond visible portion.

An infrared camera makes us able to see the rays having wavelength higher than red (infrared). When inflammation starts in a body parts, it starts emitting infrared rays. And infrared camera pinpoints the saturation of these rays in the form of colors on a thermograph. So an abnormal temperature difference at a body part identifies the underlying impairment.

Equine thermography Procedure

A well-trained veterinarian or thermographer uses a high resolution infrared camera during procedure. Images should be taken the normal physical state of horse. Sunlight, heat and thick body coat can affect the results of a thermograph - hence the importance of standardization.

Equine thermography should always be performed by a trained professional. Un-trained personnel can compromise the accuracy of procedure. Questions have been raised on the accuracy and authenticity of thermography as diagnostic tool. And the major reason of poor diagnosis is the services by an un-trained individual.

With the advancement in technology, thermography cameras have developed for better resolution and user-friendliness.

Well-focused images are taken from different sides of the body or body part. Especially at the joints, images from both dorsal and ventral surfaces are taken to pinpoint the asymmetry in the temperature. After taking the images, they are processed using software and report is prepared by a trained thermographer technician.

At Perfect stride, we take a total of 30 images from all angels to give a comprehensive over view. This allows us to detect thermal patterns and provide a holistic understanding of your horses' condition.

Take home massage

  • A standardized approach using thermography can help in early diagnosis of different equine health conditions. During training and rehabilitation, it helps to monitor the effectiveness of therapeutic procedures.

  • By foreseeing a problem, thermal imaging provides the opportunity to act proactively. Timely diagnosis and right treatment can prevent huge veterinary cost and detrimental injuries.

  • The quality of thermograph produced is very dependent on the equipment used. A high specs camera is able to pick up thermal differences as little as 0.1 degree.

  • A well-trained veterinarian or thermographer should be opting for the procedure. Overlooking the technical details during taking images can lead to wrong analysis.

Reference & Further Readings

Prevalence of Lameness and Metabolic Disorders in Endurance Horses

Chapter 25 - Thermography: Use in Equine Lameness

Diagnosis and Management of Lameness in the Horse

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