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Its application in Agility dogs...

Is your agility dog suffering from poor performance, behavioural problems or temperament changes? There could be an underlying cause. Thermal imaging can be used as a diagnostic tool, but can also be used as a management tool to monitor a performance animal, or can be used to assess the efficacy of a treatment. Stephanie Godfrey of Veterinary Thermal Imaging Ltd, the only thermal imaging provider to caters for all warm blooded animals, explains how it works...

The No. 1 cause of injury in high impact sports like agility is doing too much, too soon, too fast, but just how much will vary from dog to dog. This is important to remember when devising training regimes for a dog as the animal's body must be given time to adapt to changes in intensity and duration, to avoid injury. Levy et al, (2007) conducted a survey to assess the types of injuries occurring within agility. The study showed that 58% of dogs participating in agility competitions resulted in injury.

How does it work?
Thermal imaging maps heat patterns across the animal's body using an Infra Red camera. The camera takes multiple temperature readings and is around 40 times more sensitive than the human hand, meaning it can pick up minor differences and, in some cases, can highlight an area of interest up to three weeks before the animal shows any clinical symptoms.

Since there is a high degree of thermal symmetry in the normal body, subtle abnormal temperature asymmetries can be easily identified, and these are referred to as hot spots and cold spots. A hot spot indicates inflammation or increased circulation and is generally seen in the skin directly overlying injury.  A cold spot highlights a reduction in blood supply, usually due to swelling, thrombosis, scar tissue or increased tone in the nervous system.

The most common injuries to agility dogs are soft tissue with the shoulder and back regions being primary injury sites. This correlates with the dog's load ratio of 70% of body weight being loaded onto the front limbs which are used for steering and braking whilst the hind limbs are only loaded 30% to aid in drive, impulsion and jumping.

 Below are some of the more common injuries seen within agility dogs:

Joint injuries
Elbow and Carpal injuries are common as stresses are placed onto the regions when landing, which further increases if a dog has to take a turn whilst landing after a jump.

Figure 1- shows inflammation surrounding the carpal region. 

Back pain
Tight and/ or twisty agility courses can result in back (and neck) injuries. For instance the Weave poles place stresses on the spine and its associated muscles due to the sharp and quick turning, which can result in injuries such as Spondylitis and muscle spasms

Figure 2 – Shows an increase in temperature over the Latissimus Dorsi muscle, which may indicate muscle spasms.

Foot and toe injuries
Agility dogs are prone to foot and toe injuries.  Slats on touch point equipment can result in deformation of the foot's structure, which can worsen when braking is applied at the same time.

For instance, running down an A-Frame could result in injuries such as toe injuries (torn off toe nail, dislocation, sprained or broken toes), fractured sesamoid bones, arthritis (Carpal region) and even tendon injuries.

Nerve dysfunction
Dogs that partake in agility are at a higher risk for developing injuries such as intervertebral disc degeneration due to the repetitive flexion and extension of the spine over the various agility apparatus.

Injury to nerves will be naturally cooler than injuries which involve inflammation such as tendon injuries. This is due to the increased tone in the nerves (pressure), and results in increased sympathetic tone, which produces cooling in the corresponding areas under control of different nerves.

Very discrete borders are seen to the different areas of colour within the canine thermograph. These areas of colour are called dermatomes. Dermatome maps have been produced to identify the correlating nerve that is affected.

Other injuries
Tendon and ligament injuries and hip dysplasia are also detected using thermography.


Thermal imaging has many advantages for the agility dog.
One of its main advantages is that recent research has shown thermography can identify areas of injury in some cases three weeks before clinical symptoms are exhibited. This allows a quicker treatment and recovery period, allowing the dog to return to its agility training sooner. At the same time, it can also help in preventing or pinpointing secondary issues. Thermal imaging is non–invasive which means the dog can be reimaged as often as required to track its recovery period without the need for anaesthetics or sedation.

Veterinary Thermal Imaging Ltd prices are reasonably inexpensive with imaging starting from £40 plus call out.

To find about more about Veterinary Thermal Imaging, see Alternatively email or ring 0800 408 3891.

About the author...
Stephanie Godfrey is a Veterinary Thermographer. She is involved with gundog training and trailing,

First published 28 January 2013


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