What It Is:
Just like humans, animals can experience heart (cardiac) abnormalities that can impact their quality of life and longevity. Some problems are present from birth (congenital) and others develop over time. Common symptoms of underlying cardiac disease vary between dogs and cats, but may include: cough, collapse/fainting, abdominal swelling, difficulty breathing, and lethargy or exercise intolerance. Some patients may show no outward clinical signs of heart disease at all but their doctors may detect an abnormality on clinical exam; such as as heart murmur, irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), abnormal chest raidograph (X-ray), changes in blood pressure, or abnormal bloodwork results.
In these cases, we recommend pursuing a more in-depth cardiac workup, which helps your vet to categorize the nature of your pet’s heart disease. This allows us to determine where in the heart an abnormality originates (for example, a valve abnormality vs. a vessel abnormality), make informed clinical recommendations regarding prognosis and long-term care, and create treatment plans customized to each pet.
Cardiac Diagnostic Recommendations Often Include:
Baseline bloodwork, including cardiac enzyme levels which measure stretch of the heart muscle.
Thoracic radiographs (chest X-rays) to evaluate size of heart & health of surrounding lungs.
Blood pressure readings, which can be both too high & too low.
ECG (electrocardiogram), which evaluates the electrical signal of the heart.
Echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart).
What is an echocardiogram?
An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart and is used to diagnose and monitor heart disease. It can tell us the exact cause of a heart murmur and/or irregular heart rhythm, the severity of disease, and can also help diagnose other conditions like pulmonary hypertension and certain types of cancers. An echocardiogram can help determine if a pet should be placed on cardiac medications that can help prolong their lives. In cases where a pet requires general anesthesia, an echocardiogram can also help determine if the heart is strong and functional enough to tolerate the procedure.
What should you expect on the day of your pet’s echocardiogram at Court Street Vet?
You will drop your pet off in the morning and they will stay with us for the day. Most pets will require a mild sedative for the procedure to minimize stress and facilitate the best possible images. Depending on your pet and their specific cardiac concerns they may also have an ECG measurement (evaluation of the heart rhythm), blood pressure measurement, blood work, and x- rays of their chest.
What is involved with a cardiac work up, besides an echocardiogram?
Depending on your pet’s species, age, breed, and suspected severity of disease any or all of the following may be recommended in addition to the echo:
- Radiographs: X rays of the chest help us evaluate the lungs and the size of the heart. They tell us if there is any fluid in the lungs and also allow us to evaluate the associated airways and blood vessels. We would also be able to see if there were any masses or other abnormalities within the thorax.
- Bloodwork: A biochemistry & complete blood count. This allows for a general overview of the pet’s systemic health by allowing us to evaluate the liver, kidneys, thyroid and red and white blood cell count.
- CardioProBNP Blood Test– This is a specific blood parameter that allows us to measure stretch on the heart. In many cases this can be used as a way to monitor progression of heart disease once a baseline has been established. It also makes a useful screening tool and can be used to decide if a pet needs a more thorough cardiac work up.
- Blood Pressure: Many cardiac conditions also cause an increase in blood pressure. Just like in humans, hypertension can be a life-threatening condition. In some cases a pets blood pressure may fall into a ‘grey zone’ where it is considered high, but not high enough to be started on medications. In these instances periodic rechecks are typically recommended in order to monitor the progression of the condition.
- ECG (electrocardiogram): This is a measurement of the electric conduction of the heart and allows us to diagnose rhythm abnormalities.
If your pet is experiencing any of the above clinical signs, or has been diagnosed with a murmur or arrhythmia please reach out to discuss his or her care!