Heart disease in pets is quite common especially as they age which is why early diagnosis and treatment is key in allowing your pet a longer, better quality of life. And while hospitalization may be necessary for some cardiac conditions, most can be managed on an outpatient basis.
The first step in determining a treatment plan involves a comprehensive cardiac physical examination, reviewing your pet’s medical history as well as tests completed by your primary care veterinarian. After a consultation with the family, a physical exam and diagnostic tests are performed. Results and next steps are discussed with the family as we believe through knowledge and communication, dogs and cats with heart disease can live joyful, dignified lives.
Cardiac Services Offered
An echocardiogram is a comprehensive ultrasound of the heart. Our cardiologists have advanced training and years of experience in cardiac ultrasound. Utilizing specialized equipment, accurate yet non-invasive evaluation of the heart is possible. Echocardiography assesses the anatomy and mechanical function of the heart, valves, and blood flow within the heart. Your pet’s condition is generally fully diagnosed while you wait for this test to be performed on an outpatient basis.
An ECG (EKG) is an electrical print-out of your pet’s heart rhythm. ECGs are diagnostic in cases of irregular heartbeats, arrhythmias, conduction disturbances and symptoms such as fainting, weakness, and shortness of breath.
A thoracic radiograph is also known as a chest x-ray. Thoracic radiographs are important in evaluating the size and shape of the heart and the size of the lung vessels and great arteries, as well as evaluating the airways and lungs. Our thoracic radiographs are digital and are archived online for future reference by your cardiologist, primary veterinarian, or radiologist.
Holter & Event Monitors
Holter and event monitors are small digital ECG units that can record every beat of your pet’s heart while he or she is at home. Typically worn for 24 hours, Holter monitors record the ECG continuously and are useful in evaluating the severity/importance of ventricular and supraventricular arrhythmias, as well as the response to medication for these arrhythmias. Additionally, Holters are commonly recommended in the diagnostic workup for dogs that are fainting or collapsing. Event monitors are worn for up to 30 days, and the ECG is recorded when the button is pushed, allowing the owner to record an ECG directly when an episode is occurring.
Blood Pressure Monitoring
If indicated, your pet’s blood pressure will be measured in the examination room while you are present to help relax your pet.
Minimally-Invasive Cardiac Intervention and Cardiac Surgery
Our cardiologists specialize in assessment and correction of cardiac disease. Cardiac procedures are frequently performed using minimally-invasive corrective techniques (utilizing catheters and trans-vascular approaches rather than surgery).
- Pacemaker Implantation
- Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA) Repair
- Pulmonic Stenosis/Balloon Valvuloplasty
Treatment of Congestive Heart Failure and other causes of coughing and respiratory distress
A cardiac evaluation is often the cornerstone of evaluating a pet with coughing or difficulty breathing. Your primary veterinarian can help you determine if a cardiac evaluation is appropriate for your pet. Heart failure is a condition in which fluid congestion develops secondary to a sick heart.
Arrhythmia diagnosis and management
Arrhythmias are a disruption to the normal electrical activity of the heart. Arrhythmias can be benign or can be life-threatening. An electrocardiogram is a method used to diagnose specific arrhythmias, and treatment with antiarrhythmic medication or interventional treatment (pacemaker) may be recommended.
Pericardiocentesis is the removal of fluid from the sac around the heart (pericardial effusion). Pericardiocentesis can be an emergency procedure, as pericardial effusion can cause shock symptoms. The patient is clipped and prepped, an ECG is monitored closely, local anesthesia is given as well as sedation in some patients, and a large catheter is advanced into the pericardial space. Fluid is then drained and analyzed.
Thoracocentesis is the removal of fluid from the chest cavity (pleural effusion). Thoracocentesis can be an emergency procedure, as pleural effusion can cause respiratory distress, especially in cats. Removal of the fluid is often necessary to stabilize an animal. A small area is clipped and cleanly prepped, and then a catheter is inserted into the chest cavity, and fluid is drained and submitted for analysis.
Abdominocentesis is the removal of fluid from the abdominal cavity (ascites). Removal of the fluid often relieves discomfort in an animal. A small area is clipped and cleanly prepped, and then a catheter is inserted into the abdominal cavity and fluid is drained and submitted for analysis.
The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (www.offa.org) is a breed registry/database for purebred animals. If you intend to breed your animal, and it is a breed for which cardiac disease is known or suspected to be inherited, you should have your animal screened for cardiac disease before breeding. You can download the forms from the OFA website. Please fill in the appropriate sections before your pet’s certification appointment.
Common Signs of Heart Disease
In the early stages of heart disease, there may no signs at all which is why it is important your pet is screened annually. The following are common symptoms as the disease progresses:
- Coughing that continues for more than three days
- Difficulty breathing: shortness of breath, rapid breathing, or labored breathing
- Trouble sleeping
- Unwilling to walk or exercise
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Distended abdomen
If your pet exhibits any of these symptoms have your pet seen by a veterinarian immediately.
What is a Veterinary Specialist?
A board-certified specialist’s expertise complements the care provided by your primary care veterinarian. In addition to completing a veterinary degree (Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine, DVM), a board-certified veterinary specialist must complete an internship, a two to four-year specialized residency, and publish a paper in a peer-reviewed journal. Specialists must also undergo a series of exams based on knowledge and skill in the given specialty.