Ultrasound advancements a game-changer for horse vets

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A student at UC Davis performs an ultrasound.
An ultrasound being performed on a horse at UC Davis. © UCD Large Animal Ultrasound Service

With the expansion and development of a more advanced form of ultrasound-guided intervention, equine vets are now changing the way they perform some procedures in horses.

Dr Mary Beth Whitcomb from the University of California says the advantages of interventional ultrasound and its use in minimally invasive procedures include reduced tissue trauma, reduced procedure time and client cost and the ability to be used on standing horses in appropriate cases and situations.

“Interventional ultrasound can be used to perform minimally invasive procedures in horses from the removal of foreign bodies and fracture fragments to surgical procedures such as patellar ligament splitting,” Whitcomb said.

Dr Mary Beth Whitcomb
Dr Mary Beth Whitcomb

Whitcombe, who is considered one of the USA’s leading authorities on large animal ultrasound, said that while ultrasound is often used to identify foreign material or fracture fragments in horses with trauma or wounds, it is often under-used to directly assist their removal in the surgical suite.

“The use of ultrasound-guided removal often results in a less invasive approach whether the surgery is performed in the standing horse or under general anaesthesia. It’s important that equine vets consider the use of ultrasound-guidance in these situations, depending on the circumstances and available expertise.”

Ultrasound-guided placement of needles and drains can also be readily performed in the management of abscesses.

“Interestingly, clients have an increased perception of value when it comes to using ultrasound-guided approaches to abscesses because they can readily see fluid swirling within all visible regions of the abscess.”

In an effort to offer more minimally invasive approaches to surgical procedures in horses, ultrasound-guidance is now used for interventional tendon and ligament surgeries, and more advanced procedures such as stent placement for urinary disease. It’s also used during more complex procedures related to cardiac disease.

“There is no doubt that there are some real benefits to using ultrasound-guided approaches in minimally invasive procedures,” Whitcomb said.

Dr Mary Beth Whitcomb spoke at the Equine Veterinarians Australia Bain Fallon Conference last week.

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