~ The importance of accurate application for thermography to achieve reliable results to assist with Veterinarian diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of equines ~
The proper use of thermography when examining equine patients should be to ensure that similar clinical standards and principles used in the human medical sector be applied to Veterinary IR Imaging (thermography). For this to happen it is a necessity that a controlled environment and rigorous obedience to an imaging protocol be followed to eliminate errors or false readings.
The cameras that should be used are highly technical and need to be of a clinical standard, specifically designed for physiological imaging of animals. The quality of the image interpretation is only as good as the images that are captured.
Capturing of IR data
The animal thermographer or thermal imaging technician, as some are called, are responsible for taking the most precise images possible so that the interpreting vet has the best chance of achieving accurate and reliable information for reporting and results. Images must be taken at exactly 90 degrees to ensure comparisons of sides can be made.
Animals should be imaged both previous to exercise and after. This enables us to run comparative studies pre and post-exercise, documenting the patient’s physiological response. This process provides invaluable data, helping to pinpoint and localise pathology.
Patient preparation and environment
Standardisation and correct patient preparation are most vital to minimize artefacts and maximize results. Clinical thermography must be done in a stable environment where the animal has had time to stabilise to its surrounding environment. Artefacts such as moisture and sweat, dirt, bandages and rugs, will most definitively affect the results. Long hair coats, feathers, the mane and tail may interfere with imaging so it is important that this is tended to. Having a clean dry patient in an environment free of drafts, direct sunlight or moisture, are key to ensure the success of results. This ensures that the repeatability and reliability of IR imaging continues and can be continued to be accepted in the veterinary industry.
The analysis and interpretation of animal infrared (IR) data should be complete by a licensed veterinarian. However, not just any vet is able to review this data, a vet that is specifically trained in the thermographic interpretation of the data is required.
“Interpreting thermography is far more complexed then people think. It is not purely about "hot spots" but recognition of disruptions in homeostasis and anomalies in normal thermal patterns. As well as this it is important to have a rooted understanding of pathogenesis and pathophysiology as thermographic images will inevitably show something. Specialist experience and veterinary knowledge will be able to link the findings with clinical history and relevance to clinical presentation.
Many services attempt to interpret without qualification and/or use an algorithm software to formulate a diagnosis. This results in questionable findings. Thermography without qualified veterinary interpretation is thermal art.” – The Equine Documentalist (Facebook post "Veterinary Infrared vs Thermal Art", 08/07/2020)
Clinical history and concerns
A history of the patient should be supplied. For equines, this must include the horse’s age, gender, breed, type of performance and current level of performance. Information of hoof function, current health problems and any previous injuries of the musculoskeletal system should also be included. Medical history is also required, including results of other veterinary examinations such as radiology, ultrasonography and palpation.
To conclude, if the modality is accurately applied there are numerous benefits and advantages that this technology could offer the equine and veterinarian industries. Assisting things at a much earlier stage to help prevention in areas of equine lameness and poor performance, providing more comprehensive care for your equine friend.
Pictured below: A Vet-IR thermographic report for the representation of what should be provided on your thermographic report.
Vet-IR Senior Imaging Consultant Gracie Herring
References and further reading:
1. Equine Documentalist. 2020. BLOG | The Equine Documentalist. Available online at: https://www.theequinedocumentalist.com/.
2. Equine Documentalist. 2020. Equine Thermography - Hot or not?. Available online at: https://www.theequinedocumentalist.com/post/equine-thermography-hot-or-not?fbclid=IwAR13jGgwFiE2oRi1MsMGuXBH86lVnhNjZqOtfz0C_6YL0hQrLpvxVjmtCEw
3. Imaging Techniques in Equine Lameness By Tracy A. Turner , DVM, MS, Turner Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery
4. Turner et al., 2001; Soroko et al., 2014
5. Vet IR. 2020. Imaging Services – Vet IR. Available online at: https://www.vet-ir.com/imaging-services/#standards.