Surgery resident Dr. Keri Thomas longes a horse in the Ryan/Dubé Equine Performance Centre. Photo: Christina Weese.

New tool homes in on equine lameness

Whether their patient is a high performance equine athlete or a beloved pony, veterinarians at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) have access to a full range of technologies that can help diagnose equine lameness and pinpoint problems.

A new addition came in August 2015 when the college's Veterinary Medical Centre acquired a Lameness Locator®, an advanced diagnostic tool that can accurately assess a horse's movement. The device is about 300 times more sensitive than the human eye and is effective even in comparison to experienced equine surgeons who specialize in lameness.

Consisting of two small accelerometers and a gyroscope, the sensors are placed on the horse's head, right front pastern and its croup (highest point of the hindquarters). The machines then pick up any asymmetry in the horse's movement and send the information to a smart tablet. Computer software on the tablet assembles data about the horse's specific lameness.

This all happens within minutes – in about 25 strides the machine can acquire enough information to help the clinician properly assess the problem and provide a printout for the owner.

"It's a really useful and innovative tool," says Dr. Kate Robinson, an assistant professor in equine field service at the WCVM.

The system has already been used in the field to help clinicians assess complex cases such as lameness in multiple limbs. It can detect which limb is most lame and whether it might be a true problem — or a result of the horse compensating for injury in one leg. The equipment is also especially useful for picking up subtle problems.

"Certainly the other application where it can really come in handy is in the high end performance horse, where maybe even to the human eye there isn't a discernable lameness, but the rider can feel that the horse is moving differently," says Robinson, who is using the locator for her current research on heel pain in horses.

The tool is just one in a stable of advanced diagnostic technologies available at the WCVM's Veterinary Medical Centre where horse owners have access to digital radiography, magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography and nuclear scintigraphy (bone scanning). The centre's surgical team also provides a range of orthopedic surgical procedures for horses.

Later this month, horse owners can see a Lameness Locator® in action and help clinicians work through a case during an equine education afternoon at the WCVM's Ryan/Dubé Equine Performance Centre. Organized by the college's Equine Health Research Fund, the free public event takes place from 2:30 to 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 30 (RSVP to myrna.macdonald@usask.ca by Oct. 23).
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