Thermography - a non-invasive method to speed up diagnosis

3 April, 2006

by Ingrid Khan

The word thermos derives from Greek meaning temperature and the word graphics also deriving from Greek means image/graph.

For many years thermographic cameras have been used in industry detecting leakages of sorts but not so long ago thermal imaging cameras have been developed specifically to be used with humans and animals.

The brilliance of these cameras is that they are non-invasive (you do not need to be in physical contact with the patient) which is particularly helpful when we use it with animals and this technique used for horses has become increasingly popular.

The thermographic camera will detect so called 'hot spots' i.e. areas where the skin shows a rise in temperature which would indicate that in this particular area lies the problem e.g. inflammation due to injury or at worst an 'active' tumour.

Before vets and owners start investigating through observation/feel/testing and sometimes arriving at a wrong diagnosis this camera will take an overall picture of the horse in front of you. It might take various pictures of where you believe the injury might lie.

Placing this image onto a computer you will be able to see where the differences in temperatures are. Downloading this image you will be able to take it to your vet and discuss the problem found with him provided he knows how to read these images. But it does not take rocket science to learn. This will be by far a shorter way to arriving at a more accurate diagnosis.

Here is an example: my Doberman bitch had a hazelnut-sized hard lump and many soft ones on and around her rib cage. An alarmed vet told me that we ought to have the hard lump removed. But since I am not too eager to put anybody under the knife I chose to observe this lump for a month or so. I attended to the immune system with my Transfer Factor which after a period of three weeks got rid of all the soft tissue lumps. The little hard lump never changed its size, which I thought was good and figured that it might be an encapsulated 'inactive' tumour. I am always wary of removing lumps for fear they might get damaged during removal and seed.

I investigated the thermographic camera and organized a demonstration. The price of this hand-held camera is prohibitive but, should one use it on more horses and dogs and offer one's services to vets, I am sure that the investment would be a great one. I am considering this path presently.

Scott, who did the demo for me, scanned the Doberman bitch and lo and behold we found the little lump on the pc screen showing no rise in temperature which confirmed that this indeed appears to be either a cyst or an encapsulated and inactive tumour! For the past almost eight months now the size of the lump has not changed yet. Brilliant news!

Whilst the vet was here, we had one filly run into the yard lame on her near fore. She decided to look at the horse and told me that it might be a good idea to x-ray the feet to make sure that no bony changes had taken place ... which to my mind did not make much sense, but then, I am no vet. Considering that I would have to organize travel to the clinic, the vet suggested bringing the machine out to me and two nurses to help with the x-raying. In my mind I heard the till ringing! I decided to wait a bit with this procedure.

In the meantime checking the crest and looking under the winterrug I noticed an 'apple' bottom, the crest was hard and oooops we also had a belly, my guess was that this might be an oncoming attack of laminitis! I made changes to the diet immediately, kept her indoors overnight, although fructans are at their highest during the day but the stress not being with her pals would have been worse. Five days later she was fine and galloping down the field like something possessed! I thanked my stars for not having had to pay for the procedure of x-raying.

Whilst Scott was here demonstrating his camera I asked him to scan the filly. We scanned her from all sides as well as front and back and - bless this eager eater of a filly - no 'hot spots', no raised temperature anywhere i.e. no problems!

The camera's infrared rays reach fairly far into the system but have problems going through very 'hairy' animals such as bears and St Bernard dogs, etc. But since horses are pretty thin skinned this camera is often used by training yards before horses go onto the track. It will detect early tendonitis before we notice it; horses can be spared injuring themselves on the track further and can be pulled out of the race. This way you will save the horse as well as money by a quicker diagnosis of things to come.

As one vet was heard to say: "I use the technique on a daily basis in my clinical work, because it is ten times more sensitive than my hands at detecting changes. I use it at the end of my physical exam - so that I have stressed it as much as I can to accentuate the changes. It doesn't tell you what is going on. It tells you where to go and look more closely." (Turner)

It is a brilliant way of screening horses before they are entered into any competitive sports detecting injuries before they become clinically apparent.

I am very taken by the camera and consider its purchase seriously. In order to make this camera pay its way I shall offer the services to yards and vets.