Infrared thermography is a diagnostic modality used in horses. This technology is not new as it was introduced about 50 years ago but seems to be increasing in popularity for lameness diagnosis in horses. The technology works on the premise that the horse's body surface emits infrared radiation that can be detected by an infrared camera. The camera provides a colored image that shows the variation of different areas of body temperature, and the theory is that inflamed areas will show up on the image to help localize the area of lameness. The technology has been shown to be useful when guidelines established by the American Academy of Thermology (AAT) for veterinary thermal imaging are followed, and the exam is performed and interpreted by a veterinarian experienced with the technology.
However, there are many non-veterinarians that have purchased this equipment and are performing thermal scans, but they are not using correct guidelines and are not interpreting the images correctly. These non-veterinarians are also making diagnoses, which is actually illegal for anyone but a veterinarian. However, the most important thing is that in most cases, these non-veterinarians are charging horse owners for scans that are basically useless. I recently was forwarded a scan by a client and the person performing the scan suspected the horse had equine protozoal myeloencephalitis; EPM is a protozoal disease that affects the nervous system, and there is no scientific evidence that the disease can be diagnosed by a thermal scan. If someone recommends a thermal scan for your horse, research the person scanning, ask your veterinarian for an opinion, and contact AAT about veterinary thermal imaging before spending money on this modality.