What Diagnostic Imaging Reveals About Your Horse

Diagnostic imaging results are clearer than ever, but how they will affect a horse’s performance career isn’t always as evident

Veterinarians have been using diagnostic imaging to assess horses for decades. Being able to visualize healthy structures—as well as fractures, soft tissue tears, and more—using radiographs and ultrasound has long allowed practitioners to diagnose lameness and gauge performance potential. While the images weren’t always the clearest or easiest to evaluate in the early days, vets did their best with the information they had.

Today it’s a different story. Traditional imaging options have improved, allowing veterinarians to see injuries or other anomalies they never knew existed years ago, and advanced modalities are providing more detailed looks at horses’ anatomical structures than ever.

“Of course, with more advanced imaging, the vet has the potential to see more incidental findings,” says Kirstin Bubeck, DrMedVet, Dipl. ACVS, ACVSMR, a clinical assistant professor of large animal surgery and sports medicine at Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, in North Grafton, Massachusetts.

We know not every imaging abnormality causes lameness or reduces performance potential. So which ones are bad news, and which ones don’t matter?

Spoiler alert: All imaging findings matter. The question is which findings are clinically significant in a particular horse and which ones are likely to have little impact on a performance career. The answer is anything but simple.

Hallmarq Standing MRI

Improving Technology, More Information, More Challenges

Advancements in imaging technology mean veterinarians no longer must bring X ray films back to the clinic to evaluate. They’re not bound by static endoscopy to evaluate airway issues that arise during exercise. And they’re not limited to fuzzy and difficult-to-interpret ultrasound ­images. Portable digital radiograph machines now let veterinarians see inside a horse almost instantly and enhance or adjust images to make defects easier to identify and assess. Ultrasound images reveal more detail, and endoscopes can show what’s going on in a horse’s throat as he gallops around a track. Veterinarians even have access to more advanced imaging technology that has opened new diagnostic doors.

“Advanced imaging modalities, such as MRI, CT scans, nuclear scintigraphy, and PET scan, have the advantage of providing complementary information to that ­provided by radiography and ultrasonography,” says Alison Morton, DVM, MSpVM, Dipl. ACVS, ACVSMR, a clinical associate professor, chief of large animal surgery, and large animal hospital medical director at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, in Gainesville.

Each advanced modality provides different information (which you can learn more about at TheHorse.com/1104231), she says, which can help give veterinarians a more complete picture of an issue and help them determine whether an abnormality is clinically

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