Infrared Cameras Diagnose Pain in Horses

Equine thermography offers noninvasive look inside large animals

By Sara Story
|  Friday, Mar 18, 2011  |  Updated 9:17 AM CDT
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Equine thermography is the latest way to pinpoint pain and improve horse health.

Sara Story, NBCDFW.com

Equine thermography is the latest way to pinpoint pain and improve horse health.

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Equine thermography can pinpoint what's ailing your animal weeks before a veterinarian would otherwise be able to.

Jan Walling, a horse owner in Denton County, first used it when it was unclear why one of her horses was in pain. Something as simple as an infrared camera can highlight the hidden problem.

"We could not find where she was sore, but she clearly was telling us," she said. "She wasn't whispering. She was shouting at us."

Walling now uses it on other horses when problems arise.

"Infrared thermography has a unique capability to diagnose lameness problems due to circulatory or inflammation in the animal," said Jim Hemsell, a thermography technician.

Hemsell and his wife, Lore, own Infrared Cowgirl. Based in Denton, the couple is one of the few equine thermography businesses in Texas.

The noninvasive technique has been around for more than a decade, but the Hemsells said it's now showing up in the horse world.

"About two or three years ago, the quality of the images and sensitivity of the cameras improved," he said.

The thermal images capture hot spots and pinpoint inflammation in the animal. Technicians such as the Hemsells send the pictures to a veterinarian to diagnose the problem areas.

"It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to take 30 images of the horse -- the entire horse," Lore said. "It will even show if a piece of grass is stuck to the hoof."

From hairline fractures to ligament strains, the images pick up conditions at an early state.

"It's very inexpensive to take these pictures," Hemsell said. "We are not dealing with the cost of doing multiple X-rays."

Infrared Cowgirl charges $150 to $200 for a thermal scan. There are additional charges if you choose to have a veterinarian assess the images.

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