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In small animal general practice veterinarians are often presented with difficult and even baffling cases, an incomplete history of the pet’s problem or misleading information that could lead to a incorrect diagnosis. Since animals can’t tell the veterinarian if something hurts or where it hurts we must rely on the caregivers and question them on what they have noticed at home and hope that they are observant and honest. Without the caregivers help the veterinarian is left to make a diagnosis from the exam alone. With a limited, inadequate, misleading history and a pet that hides his or her pain in the exam room the veterinarians job becomes very difficult and sometimes next to impossible.
Radiographs of the patient may help pin point skeletal disease such as arthritis, hip dysplasia, or bone tumors but they do not easily detect soft tissue injuries involving muscles, tendons, ligaments, disks, cartilage and bursas. Fortunately, a newer diagnostic tool known as “Digital infra red thermal imaging” is now available to the veterinary profession. A digital thermal imaging camera detects changes in the “heat gradient” in soft tissue. These subtle changes in the patients heat gradients can be captured by an infra red thermal camera and displayed on a computer screen. Such thermal changes can be detect problems very early in a disease process and even before the patient is aware of the problem.
Thermal imaging is totally non invasive and painless and provides information and clues about changes in the pets physiology that can not be obtained any other way. Areas of the patient’s body that are inflamed or infected will show an increase in the heat gradient on thermal imaging where as nerve damage or certain metabolic diseases will result in a decrease in the heat gradient of the affected area. By comparing the right and left side of the body the camera can detect a “lack of symmetry” with hot or cold areas on one side but not the other. By imaging the spine hot or cold areas will provide clues as to where a prolapsed or rupture disk may be found.
Although thermal imaging has been used in medicine for over 20 years, especially in the detection of breast cancer where it is more sensitive than a mammogram, it has had very little use in veterinary medicine. With the recent development of a smaller, less expensive thermal camera which comes attached to a computer providing special diagnostic software the time has come for pets and their veterinarians to enjoy the benefits of this valuable technology.
Digital infra red thermography is presently used by the experts including Johns Hopkin, Harvard Medical, School, University of Texas, Penn State, NASA and the U.S Army School of Aerospace