History of Animal Thermography

Thermal imaging history through the ages.Since ancient times the detection and monitoring of heat emitted from the body has been used as a diagnostic and management tool. The Egyptians used to monitor skin temperature change by moving their fingers across a body surface. Hippocrates, one of the Ancient Greeks was recorded applying wet mud to a cloth and draping it over the patient's thorax. He determined that the area to dry first was the problematic point and in so doing took the first 'thermogram' over 2400 years ago.

Vets and owners have been feeling and palpating limbs for centuries to gauge where injuries have occured. Temperature difference being such a key indicator, and nothing new in injury detection. What is new though is the sensitivity and degree of objectivity that thermal imaging technology provides. It is 40 times more sensitive than the human hand.

The science of Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging (also termed Veterinary Thermal Imaging, Thermography or Infrared Thermal Imaging) was initially developed for military applications, but since the end of the Cold War it has been made available commercially. InfraRed (IR) technology is now one of the fastest growing diagnostic and management tools available in the medical and veterinary fields.

Over the past fifty years, huge advances have been made in thermal imaging technology, and in its application in the veterinary field:

1960 – Development of cooled Forward Looking InfraRed (FLIR) cameras

1972 – Joint work with the US Army develops the uncooled FLIR system

1985 – Development of uncooled battery operated technology

1988 – Industry’s first commercial IR camera produced

1996 – First uncooled microbolometer camera comes to market

Historic thermal Imaging cameras.

Medical Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging (DITI) has been used extensively in human medicine in the USA, Europe and Asia for the past 20 years. Clinical uses include detection of breast cancer, fever screening (H1N1), identify localised conditions such as Carpel Tunnel Syndrome and monitoring healing processes. Until now, cumbersome equipment has hampered its diagnostic and economic viability as a tool in the field, often requiring very strict environmental conditions for the camera to function accurately. New, state of the art PC-based Infrared technology, designed specifically for clinical applications has changed all this.

Research has been ongoing for 30 years, and has proved Veterinary Thermal Imaging to be a valuable additional diagnostic tool, correlating excellently with the results achieved with other diagnostic tests. Many papers have been produced on the subject, keys ones being cited throughout this site. Discoveries and 'firsts' of particular note are:

1964 – Smith takes the first equine thermograms, which take 6 minutes to produce

1973 – Stromberg evaluates tendon damage using thermal imaging

1975 – Nelson used thermography in the USA to detect soring in Tennessee Walking Horses

1976 – Fredricson evaluated the effects of racetrack design on horses’ legs

1980 – Purohit use thermography to diagnose inflammatory processes in horses

Research continues into thermography at a rapid pace, as does the technology development, making thermal imaging an exciting and cutting edge tool in diagnosis.


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