Ultrasound Gives Equine Vets a Leg Up

November 06, 2017

The equine team at the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies considers point-of-care ultrasound a vital part of their daily practice, and rely on FUJIFILM Sonosite’s robust and portable systems to provide point-of-care (POC) imaging for a wide range of applications. Eugenio Cillán-García, a senior lecturer in equine surgery at Dick Vet, explained how ultrasound is used by its equine practice: “POC ultrasound is an extension of our examination and diagnostic capabilities; it is very difficult to do your job properly without it. One of the most common applications for ultrasound in horses is the diagnosis of musculoskeletal problems. Many horse owners will be familiar with its use for the assessment of tendon injuries, but it is equally useful for identifying ligament or cartilage damage. For example, cartilage lesions are much easier to pick up with ultrasound than with X-rays. It is also a very sensitive tool for identifying some fractures – such as pelvic fractures – which are difficult to X-ray due to the size of the animal.”

“Ultrasound has many other applications as well, not just in diagnostics, but also for monitoring rehabilitation and guiding interventions. The flexibility of the technique means that we can use if for everything from identifying a distended small intestine in a horse suffering from colic to visualising and draining an abscess. It is also very good for assessing respiratory problems, helping us to check if an infection is abating, if there is a build-up of fluid, or if air is getting into the lungs properly.”

“We currently have two hand-carried FUJIFILM Sonosite ultrasound systems, and the beauty of these instruments is that they’re so small and robust. This is very important when working with horses as, unlike small animals, transporting horses to the clinic isn’t always a practical option. The portability of these systems means that we can scan an animal in virtually any environment – in the clinic, in the stable, on the stableyard, or even on the turf of a racecourse if required – and they’re very reliable, seemingly bulletproof. We’ve had our original TITAN system for 18 years, and it’s still in routine use, and our M-Turbo seems equally robust. Another benefit of Sonosite instruments is that they offer a really good contact and image quality without having to clip the animal’s fur. This is a massive advantage when working with competition horses or racehorses, as you don’t want to have to shave off a patch of fur just to check that an old injury is fully healed a few days before it is due to compete.”

“Outside of Dick Vet, I’m quite closely involved in National Hunt (jump) racing here in Scotland. I’m the course vet for Musselburgh and Perth racecourses, as well as providing cover at numerous other courses around the country. At a race meeting, this entails providing emergency veterinary services, and POC ultrasound can be invaluable; the very rapid boot-up time of the Sonosite systems is especially useful in this setting – allowing rapid diagnosis and treatment decisions.”

“I also do a lot of consultancy work for the biggest national hunt training yard in Scotland, and ultrasound is instrumental in preventing and managing injuries in training, which is the main role of a racing vet. By looking for potential issues as soon as a drop in performance or change in behaviour is detected, we can often avoid further, more serious musculoskeletal damage. Given both the monetary and sentimental value of these horses, this can be critical. Using ultrasound, we can see exactly what the issue is, the extent of the injury, and whether or not it is a recurrence of a previous problem. We then develop a rehabilitation plan, and continuously monitor how it is healing at each step, before increasing the workload. Each horse and each injury will heal at a different rate, so it’s important to be able to accurately assess their progress and advise the trainer accordingly. This is what makes ultrasound so good – you can really see what’s going on under the skin.”