New Approach for Viewing Equine Kidneys with Ultrasound

New Approach for Viewing Equine Kidneys with Ultrasound

“Both methods (transabdominal and translumbar) overestimated kidney size, but the translumbar method was more accurate, possibly because using this method both kidneys were closer to the probe,” said Habershon-Butcher.

Photo: Tim1965/Wikimedia Commons

For years, veterinary practitioners have been monitoring kidney size via transabdominal or transrectal ultrasound to get a look at how a horse's kidney disease is progressing or improving. But a team of British scientists has recently discovered that scanning over the horse’s back instead of the abdomen is an easier and more accurate way to obtain those measurements.

“It seems that a translumbar method has not been tried and reported prior to us doing this,” said Jocelyn Habershon-Butcher, BVetMed, CertEM(IntMed), MRCVS, Clinical Lecturer in Equine Medicine at the University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science in Leicestershire. “It seems maybe no one thought about it. Routinely, the rest of the abdominal organs are scanned via the transabdominal method. This is the standard.”

The transabdominal method has certain limitations—mainly air ("Air is ultrasound’s enemy as ultrasound waves cannot pass through it,” she said) and the depth of the kidneys within the horse's body. Air in the intestines can make it difficult to obtain a good image of the kidneys, Habershon-Butcher said, and veterinarians might need to perform repeated ultrasound scans at different times to get a fairly accurate picture.

The less-used transrectal method is invasive and requires sedation to prevent rectal tears if the horse moves, said Habershon-Butcher. It’s also really only useful for the left kidney, as the right one is too far away from the rectum. And it’s a method than can only be used in adult horses and not in small ponies or foals due to risk of injury, she said.

To test their new approach, Habershon-Butcher and her fellow researchers compared kidney size measurements from transabdominal and translumbar images. The team measured the kidney size using both methods in six Thoroughbred or Thoroughbred-cross horses that were scheduled for euthanasia for reasons other than kidney problems, she said. Then, they compared the different ultrasound measurements with the actual size of the kidneys at the post-mortem examination.

“Both methods (transabdominal and translumbar) overestimated kidney size, but the translumbar method was more accurate, possibly because using this method both kidneys were closer to the probe,” said Habershon-Butcher.

Good viewing of the kidneys via ultrasound—whether it’s an abdominal scan or a lumbar scan—requires clipping the hair over the area and applying gel to the probe, she added.

The study, "Validation of a Novel Translumbar Ultrasound Technique for Measuring Renal Dimensions in Horses," will appear in an upcoming issue of Veterinary Radiology and Ultrasound

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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