Horses are susceptible to gastrointestinal tract (GIT) disturbances like ulcers and colic, which often go un- or misdiagnosed given the limitations of available diagnostic tools, such as gastroscopy and rectal examinations. As such, accurate treatment can be difficult to prescribe.

Graduate research by Diane Gibbard and Dr. Jeff Thomason of the Ontario Veterinary College is aimed at improving diagnosis accuracy. Their research focused on the assessment of capsule-endoscopic technology (CE) in capturing images of the equine GIT.

The horse has a very large gastrointestinal tract and it is a physical challenge to reach and view sections without surgery. CE is a new diagnostic tool that has been successfully used in humans to help diagnose gastrointestinal disease by collecting images of the GIT as the capsule is traveling through it.

In this study, Gibbard and Dr. Thomason’s untethered camera capsule, about the size of a large pill, with approximately 12 hours of battery life, was inserted by an endoscope into two trial horses’ GITs. High quality video footage was successfully captured, showing common parasites and lesions in various parts of the small intestine.

Because this technology has primarily been used in humans, the current capsules are small enough for humans to swallow; horses, however, can swallow larger objects. Dr. Thomason said that enlarging future camera capsules could mean longer battery life, stronger signals for mapping out the exact location and path of the equipment and higher quality video footage. Once the technology has been modified to these specifications, the researchers aim to perform a pilot study comparing images from the gastrointestinal tract of healthy and diseased horses.

“If the technology can be standardized as a diagnostic tool, veterinarians could more accurately diagnose some types of colic or other afflictions that horses suffer from, leading to better and targeted treatment of patients,” said Gibbard. Veterinarians could then significantly decrease the amount of stress horses experience, as having patients swallow the equipment is appreciably less stressful and invasive than other diagnostic tools, such as tethered endoscopes.