Examining a Horse’s Gut with a Camera in a Capsule

September 9, 2019 (published)

Gastrointestinal problems are a major area of disease in horses but unfortunately, examining all of their long intestinal tract can’t be done unless abdominal surgery is being performed as it is impossible to get a scope into the entire GI tract.  The stomach and a portion of the small intestine and colon can be examined with a scope, but that is the limit for a scope.  However, a new piece of technology has become available that will help examine the intestine better, and this is a tiny capsule with a camera inside.  The capsule is about one inch long and allows the veterinarian to visualize a large portion of the GI tract for ulcers or other abnormalities.  At the AAEP convention, a veterinarian at the University of Calgary said that the technology is wireless and transmits images from the inside of the GI tract to an external computer.  This technology has been used for several years in people and even in dogs, but is just now being used in horses. 

The camera is collected from the manure and can be used again.  Prior to the procedure, feed is withheld for 24 hours and water for 12 hours to make sure the GI tract is as clean as possible.  However, withdrawing feed for too long can cause a decrease in intestinal function, which can decrease the amount of the GI tract that can be visualized.  The capsule is given through a nasogastric tube placed in the horse’s stomach, and the horse is then fed a small amount to stimulate the gut to work and move the capsule with the camera through the intestine.  The battery lasts about 20 hours, so the amount of intestine examined depends on the rate of movement through the GI tract.  Although the camera cannot evaluate the cecum and large colon, the small intestine can be examined quite well. The procedure is safe.

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