Using Thermal Imaging on Cats and Dogs with Arthritis in Small Animal Veterinary Medicine
In this article we will look at the impact of arthritis on pets, their owners and the veterinary profession and how recent emerging technologies such as Infra-red cameras and “Thermal Imaging”are used. Using Thermal imaging on cats and dogs with arthritis offers an exciting and useful non-invasive way for veterinary professionals to investigate physiological changes in pets.
“If only they could talk!”…
Many pet owners, vets and practice staff will have uttered these words many a time. When assessing a cat or dog for signs of pain, it can be incredibly difficult to determine whether an animal is in pain, the level at which he is suffering and where in the body this is happening. Many cats and dogs display only very subtle signs that they are uncomfortable and in some, particularly cats, they can hide their pain until it reaches a level at which they become systemically unwell. Naturally, aside from a pet being unable to articulate their feelings, pain is also subjective and, aside from conventional x-rays which can be limiting, veterinary professionals can be faced with challenges when evaluating the level of pain and progression of any signs without definitive tests.
Joint issues are the most common reason for pet owners in the UK to book a veterinary consultation. Throughout the world our pets are living longer, during the past couple of decades domestic cats and dogs lifespans have in many cases almost doubled. Twenty years ago the life expectancy of a cat was around 4-6 years and today they can live to around 15 years or even more, this is similar in dogs although this is also breed dependent. Smaller breeds have longer life spans than larger dogs and these lifespans have also been subject to extension as changes have occurred in the way pets are cared for. Innovation in veterinary science, greater training for pet care professionals, changes in medications and extensive research into nutrition and the introduction of premium balanced, nutrient rich diets have all contributed to this phenomenon.
With longer life expectancies for cats and dogs comes new challenges –one of the most significant changes is the increase in the incidence of arthritis. Arthritis is the degeneration and inflammation of the joints in animals in the same way as in humans. As the dog or cat ages, degeneration to the integrity of the joint capsule will occur as either a natural occurrence from prolonged use and wear and tear or in some cases, trauma. Within the joint capsule the adjacent bones are supported by fluid and cartilage –over time this fluid leaks when the cartilage is damaged or worn and the ends of the bones will rub together causing inflammation and friction within the joint which leads to pain for the pet.
Classically occurring in the hips, legs and neck, larger breeds of dog –Great Danes, Labradors, German Shepherd and St Bernard’s – are particularly prone to developing joint issues as they age along with any cats or dogs who have had injuries when they were younger such as green stick fractures, cruciate injuries or trauma. Arthritis cannot be cured but with the correct diagnosis at an early stage the progression can be limited through non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), a structured exercise programme and use of chondro-protective supplements such as Green Lipped Mussel dependent on the location of the pain and the severity of the condition.
Diagnosis of arthritis is largely based on a case history and examination of a cat or dog. For a vet, a dog is far easier to assess than a cat due to the ability to monitor the gait, manipulate the joint and to undertake x-rays without sedation –cats are not as amenable as dogs! For a cat, or anxious dog, to undergo sedation or anaesthesia in order to confirm diagnosis of arthritis can be stressful and the subsequent recovery as an in-patient can prove difficult for both the pet and the veterinary team. Thermal imaging offers veterinary professionals a new and innovative way to determine where there are areas of discomfort for a cat or dog thus indicating arthritis in a completely non-invasive manner. Using a hand held thermal infrared camera, a veterinary professional or thermography can assess the areas of concern on a cat or dog without anaesthesia and any inflammation or pain, as areas of increased heat, will display as a clear visual display of the pattern of discomfort for the pet. As a completely non-invasive and safe procedure without the risk of continued exposure to radiation from regular x-rays, it is possible to repeat the infrared imaging at set intervals to monitor the spread of arthritis related pain and inflammation and whether there are any changes. This allows veterinary professionals to remain steps ahead with treatment options and minimise joint degeneration wherever possible and enhance the well-being and longevity of cats and dogs!
For veterinary professionals interested in finding out more about how Thermal Vision Research and thermal infrared imaging can provide your practice with innovation in veterinary diagnosis and assessment contact us today.