Use of thermal imaging in feline care


John C Godbold Jr, DVM, explained the colors that appear with temperature sensing technology and how they can lead to a diagnosis

When looking at a thermal image, practitioners can observe different colors distributed throughout their patients. Reds, blues, yellows and other colors light up the picture to paint a picture of what is going on with patients.

Speaking at the 2022 American Association of Feline Practitioners Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Thermal Imaging 101

Using thermal imaging, practicing veterinarians will notice that when scanning a patient with normal blood flow, the colors will be symmetrical in a patient. The temperatures in the image will show up as unsymmetrical in a patient with abnormal blood flow or disease.

“Now let me jump in when we see thermal images, almost all of them, I’m going to show you colors that represent temperatures. The colors in the palette are very intuitive, ranging from what we mentally think of as being cold, which is black and purple, ranging from blue, green, yellow, orange, red, and white at the hottest temperatures. But here we have a non-symmetrical temperature distribution, and there must be a physiological reason for that,” said Godbold.

He explained that the color changes can be caused by an increase in temperature due to hyperthermia and increased blood flow due to inflammation or infection. Practitioners may notice decreased blood flow due to neurological damage, vasoconstriction, or infarction.

Godbold informed attendees that thermal imaging offers another way to see what’s going on with a patient besides normal scans because it gives a different point of view and provides a more comforting approach for their feline patients.

“Keep in mind as we talk about this, that the traditional imaging that we’ve been doing for years with X-rays, CT scans, MRIs and ultrasounds give us anatomical information, they show us structurally what’s going on What’s really different with thermal images is that we get functional and physiological information Thermal images tell us what’s going on in the tissue right now and tell us where we have hot spots [and] where we have cooler areas relative to each other,” Godbold said.

“Now the beauty of thermal imaging is that it’s part of what makes it so cat friendly, is it non-invasive, we don’t send anything to the cat, we just measure temperatures on the surface of the cat’s surfing body. It’s completely objective. It’s just a collection of data, and it’s incredibly quantitative data,” he added.

See the invisible

Thermal imaging can be used for wellness screens, sick patients, and geriatric patients. Godbold informed attendees that these images are not diagnostic, but can help provide early detection of physical problems, often before any structural changes manifest. This can be a crucial step for practitioners because if the images show a thyroid problem or problems with a patient’s legs, it potentially gives them an early diagnosis, early treatment, and possibly a better outcome for patients and patients. animal owners.

“I think thermal damage is part of the breadcrumb trail that we can use when working with patients. They allow us to be proactive rather than reactive because thermal images detect problems very early in the disease process. So we can identify areas that need further assessment and those thermal images, and we’ll talk about that case in a bit more detail later,” Godbold said.

When you look at the images, some parts of the body will be hot and others will usually always be cold. On the warm side, the eyes and anus are usually red as they are constantly warmer, while a cat’s tail will usually be present with cooler colors.


As healthcare professionals, Godbold understands that the evidence behind technology, like this, is an important part of its implementation in clinics. If the product has no scientific evidence to support its importance, there will be no pressure to use it in clinics. According to Godbold, the evidence is overwhelming of previous technology he worked with before it entered the veterinary field.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with multiple technologies in this whole area with lasers and light-based modalities over the years. When they go into veterinary medicine, like everyone else, I want to see the evidence and I want to see the evidence specific to vets. I can honestly say that there is more evidence, vet and species specific, for the use of thermal imaging than any other technology I have worked with,” he said.

Although successful in studies, according to Godbold, thermal imaging cannot be a stand-alone product, and he cautioned participants to be aware of its limitations when using the product. It does not provide a specific problem unlike other imaging, but it can help by telling veterinary professionals where to start looking if they suspect a problem.

In concluding his lecture, he left participants with this last thought. “A little marketing slogan that’s been used for years with this terminology was ‘see the pain.’ and we don’t see the pain with thermal images. We see physiological changes and we see alterations in blood flow, but can thermal images help us identify areas that we need to check more closely to see if pain is present? Absolutely,” he concluded.


Godbold J. Feline Thermal Imaging: What Pretty Colors Tell Us. Presented at: 2022 American Association of Feline Practitioners Conference, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. October 27-30, 2022.


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