Microtechnology and robotics have become common tools in human medicine. They are used as internal payload devices to deliver medicine, to affect molecular changes that help patients recover from physical trauma, to perform less intrusive surgery and to help diagnose internal issues. Recently some of these technologies have become available to small animal veterinarians which offers hope for future application in large animals like horses particularly in the diagnosis of gastrointestinal issues.

In 2016, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada, researcher Khan Wahid and student Shahed Khan Mohammed used a human Pill Cam to successfully video tape the stomach and small intestine of a mare named “Mama”.

In 2018, Renaud Leguillette, DVM, Msc, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, ACVSMR, professor of equine internal medicine in the University of Calgary’s Department of Veterinary Clinical and Diagnostic Science, in Alberta Canada performed 20 capsule endoscopy examinations on horses. The hope was to video the horse’s entire 100 foot long gastrointestinal system. Traditional veterinary exams are limited to only the first 10 feet through a horse’s stomach and the first section of the small intestine. Leguillette’s examinations allowed identification of ulcers, submucosal hemorrhages, polyps, sand accumulation and parasites through the small intestine, a distance of approximately 60 feet. Video of the entire system proved to be a bigger challenge. Beyond the cecum into the large intestine video quality was poor and camera battery died before the capsule passed through the horses’ systems, a journey that can take anywhere from 2 to 14 days.

Researchers are working to make a full gastrointestinal examination a reality developing capsule endoscopy devices with 360 cameras, improved lighting and longer battery lives. In the near future, horses suffering from gastrointestinal issues like colic, ulcers, tumors will certainly benefit from more specific diagnosis and focused treatments.

Feature Photography Courtesy the University of Saskatchewan, “Mama”.