Equine veterinarians in today’s industry are equipped with several tools to assist in pinpointing problem areas and diagnose issues. There are a variety of diagnostic technologies which are available, some of which are portable and can be used in the field, while others require a visit to a clinic or hospital. Each technology was created for specific reasons, therefore there is a lot to learn about the machines and why your veterinarian might choose to use one option over another when looking at your horse.
Radiographs, or X rays, are a common technology used in equine diagnostics. When performing a digital radiograph, gamma rays are used to show internal structures. Radiographs are generally used on lameness exams, for pre-purchase exams, or diagnosing any type of bone-related issue. There is the option to conduct an X ray in the field with the use of a portable X ray machine. For issues that require a higher-energy image, such as those that are in deeper areas of the body, a trip to the clinic may be necessary.
Also a common diagnostic option is an ultrasound. Ultrasounds conduct high-frequency sound waves that produce images of soft tissues, in real time. Similar to the X ray, ultrasounds are used in lameness exams, and they also can be used in reproductive exams and assessing soft tissue structures and bony margins. The use of portable ultrasound is very common and the process is rather quick.
MRI, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, diagnostic work deals with a magnetic field and computer-generated radio- frequency waves that create detailed images. MRI’s are primarily used for soft tissue and bony injury evaluation. MRI’s are completed at a clinic, generally standing and sedated when seeking lower limb images. When imaging the upper body, the horse will be anesthetized and recumbent.
Next is CT, or Computed Tomography diagnostics. Essentially, this is using specialized X ray equipment which created a detailed cross-sectional image of various areas within the body. CT can be completed with or without intravenous contrast agents. This type of diagnostic is most common for diagnosing bony injuries and for complex fractures, as well as skull, sinus, and dental issues. This procedure for diagnosing must be completed at a hospital or clinic.
Nuclear scintigraphy, or a bone scan, is another diagnostic technology which is used to screen for issues relating to bone, such as stress fractures. With scintigraphy, the horse is administered an injection of radioactive substance and a gamma camera is then used to scan the horse’s body for “hot spots”. These hot spots indicate that there is a problem area. This procedure is required to be done at a clinic, with the horse standing and sedated. For a complete body scan, the process takes about two hours to complete.
One additional diagnostic technology is endoscopy. This is utilized to help visualize the horse’s throat, trachea, other areas of the upper respiratory system, as well as the stomach to allow for gastric ulcer diagnosis. While this procedure can be completed in the field, it is most commonly done at a clinic. It is a quick process, lasting 15-30 minutes on average.
While there are other diagnostic technologies which may be used to assist veterinarians with diagnosing various issues in the horse, the ones discussed here are the most common. It is important to trust your veterinarian, as they will recommend the best imaging approach to diagnose whatever injury, disease, or health issue that your horse may be experiencing. Keep in mind that not all veterinarians or clinics will have these technologies available for use, therefore you may need to be willing to utilize another practice to assist with your situation. One last thing to remember is that the pricing on these types of diagnostic technologies will vary significantly depending on the practice and the location.
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