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ECG for Pets: When it's Needed?

Our vets inSan Mateo have put together an article on electrocardiograms (ECGs) for dogs and cats. We will discuss when your vet might recommend an ECG for your pet and how to understand the results. By learning to interpret your pet's ECG results, you can make informed decisions about their healthcare.

What is an ECG?

An ECG, which is also known as an EKG, is a non-invasive heart monitoring test that uses sensors attached to the skin to track electrical activity in the heart. This test is safe and painless and can be performed on humans and animals. It provides an effective way to observe the heart without any invasive procedures.

What Does an ECG Tell Your Veterinarian About Your Pet?

An ECG is a diagnostic test that provides valuable information about your pet's heart. It helps veterinarians determine the heart rate and rhythm of your pet's heart and how electrical signals are moving through each part of the heart. 

The ECG produces a wave pattern that represents different actions of the heart. The P wave shows when the atria contract, the QRS complex shows when the ventricles contract and the T wave shows when the ventricles relax. 

When interpreting the ECG, veterinarians look for specific data, such as the shape and distance between the waves. They pay particular attention to the PR interval and QRS complex interval, which indicate how quickly the heart is taking in and pumping out blood. The distance between the peaks of the QRS complex is also important. If the distance is the same, the heartbeat is regular, but if it varies, the heartbeat is irregular.

The vet can determine the heart rate by counting the number of QRS complexes over a certain time interval. It's important to note that the rate and rhythm of your pet's heartbeat may vary depending on their breed. Be sure to consult your veterinarian to learn more about what values are expected of your pet.

Are ECG Safe

ECG tests are safe because they are non-invasive and passively monitor the heart as a diagnostic test.

When Would a Vet Use an ECG

Some examples of when a vet may order an ECG test are:

Abnormal Cardiovascular Physical Exam

During a physical examination, a veterinarian may identify certain abnormalities in an animal's heart, such as cardiac murmurs, gallop sounds, or arrhythmias. These could indicate a problem with the heart's ability to relax, also known as diastolic dysfunction.

As a result, an echocardiogram is typically recommended for dogs and cats in such cases. Arrhythmias, which are irregular heartbeats, can be caused by heart diseases or other conditions.

An echocardiogram can rule out certain underlying issues, such as primary cardiomyopathy or infiltrative cardiac disease. Moreover, it can assist the vet in identifying the most effective anti-arrhythmic therapy for the animal.

Breed Screening

Certain breeds of dogs and cats are more likely to inherit heart disease. In some cases, a cardiologist may need to use a stethoscope to listen to the heart and check for any unusual sounds. A complete evaluation using an echo is required if a murmur is present. However, an echo is always necessary for certain breeds to check for heart disease.

Thoracic Radiographic Changes

Cardiomegaly is a condition where the heart appears larger than its normal size in X-rays. This enlargement can occur due to the actual increase in the size of the heart, accumulation of extra fat around it, or individual differences. To determine the cause of the enlarged heart, doctors often rely on an echocardiogram test.

This test is highly effective in measuring the size of different parts of the heart and helps identify if the enlarged heart is resulting in any issues, such as heart failure or high blood pressure in the lungs.

Feline Echocardiography

It is essential to understand that cats can suffer from serious heart problems even if they seem healthy during a physical examination or an X-ray. The most reliable method to diagnose cat heart disease is an echocardiogram. This is particularly crucial for purebred cats, who are more prone to heart disease. An echocardiogram can also assist in determining the most effective treatment for cats diagnosed with heart disease.

Pre-Anesthetic Evaluation

Knowing their heart health is useful before giving a dog or cat anesthesia.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Our veterinarians at San Mateo can help if you're worried about your pet's heart. Please give us a call to schedule an appointment.

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At South Hillsdale Animal Hospital, our experienced vets are passionate about the health of San Mateo companion animals. Get in touch today to learn more about our services and becoming a new client with us.

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