Infrared technique helping horse owners get a clearer picture on unexplained deterioration
THERMOGRAPHY or Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging has been used for many years in human medicine. However, the technology is being increasingly used as a diagnostic tool in the horse world for cases of unexplained lameness or deterioration in performance and behaviour.
“It involves taking a number of thermal images of the surface of the horse’s body which show up its musculoskeletal and neurological systems,” explained John Dinneen, who provides a mobile equine thermography service.
“Sensors within the camera then convert infrared radiation emitted from the skin surface into electrical impulses that are visualised in colour on a monitor.
“As there is a high degree of symmetry in the body, abnormal or asymmetric differences that are usually indicative of a problem can be readily identified.
“Thus many injuries and physical conditions can be detected prior to any physical signs or symptoms being manifested,” John pointed out. “This, in turn, allows early intervention or treatment.”
A native of Charleville, Co Cork, John worked on a number of stud farms in the Kildare area before travelling to Britain three years ago to train with Equitherm, a company that specialises in equine Thermography, and subsequently in Holland.
On return to Ireland, John established Equine Thermography Ireland and, while based in Dublin, he travels throughout the country.
Although a number of specialist equine veterinary clinics offer thermography, John believes that the mobile service has a number of advantages.
Other than the obvious transport cost and effort involved, it’s less stressful on the horse to be in his own yard.
“He will be more relaxed and we are able to get more accurate readings,” John explained.
John admitted to meeting some scepticism from horse owners, but maintained that business was picking up. He works across all codes, but mostly with sport horses and thoroughbreds and is building up a relationship with a number of racehorse trainers and high profile vets.
The process takes about 30 minutes and, as there is no contact involved, it is particularly useful for young or nervous horses.
The results of the inspection and a full report are provided to the owner or trainer so that a full diagnosis or treatment programme can be worked out with their vet.
One of the conditions that thermography is commonly used to diagnose is the curiously named Kissing Spine whereby the bone “spikes” at the top of a horse’s vertebrae start to rub together.
This is common in top-level dressage and jumping horses where there is constant flexion of the spine. The condition can cause constant low-grade pain, the symptoms of which can vary greatly from virtually nothing to constant agitation.
ANSWERS: Thermography, seen here and above right, is becoming a growing trend in the horse world as medics look for explanations of lameness and deterioration in performance and behaviour