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Testing for Heart Disease

What's involved?

Testing for heart disease in pets is non-invasive, and for most pets is a simple, stress-free experience. Where sedation is needed, for particularly anxious pets, we only use the safest and mildest sedatives to allow them to be examined.

There are a couple of different tests we typically use to help diagnose heart disease. Your pet may not need all of these done; your vet can advise which tests will be most helpful for your pet.

Echocardiography

This may also be called an ‘echo’ or a ‘heart scan’. This is where ultrasound is used to look at the heart structures and how they are functioning; it is one of the most important tests for many heart diseases, and is the gold standard test to investigate heart murmurs.

Echo not only gives us a diagnosis - it also allows us to assess the stage of your pet's heart disease, and what the best treatments are. It can also be used to monitor response to treatment, to monitor progression of disease, and to indicate your pet's longer-term prognosis. As this test simply involves placing a probe against the skin, it is safe, non-invasive and non-painful. Most pets are quite relaxed during this examination and do not need any form of sedation for it. Your pet will usually have some hair clipped from their lower chest for this test, and will usually lie down while the exam is taking place.

After the scan, several dozen images are reviewed as part of your pet’s report. This can be a timeconsuming process, especially for first time patients. We usually aim to give results within 24 hours.

ECG

An ECG is a reading of the electrical activity of the heart. This shows the heart rhythm and allow us to detect the cause of abnormally fast or slow heart rates, detect skipped beats, fibrillation and other arrhythmias. Medical treatment is possible to help many arrhythmias.

Taking an ECG is a fast and simple process. A metal clip is placed on the skin at the top of each leg, with gel used between the probe and the skin. Sometimes some hair may need to be clipped from the site.An ECG is a reading of the electrical activity of the heart. This shows the heart rhythm and allow us to detect the cause of abnormally fast or slow heart rates, detect skipped beats, fibrillation and other arrhythmias. Medical treatment is possible to help many arrhythmias.

Taking an ECG is a fast and simple process. A metal clip is placed on the skin at the top of each leg, with
gel used between the probe and the skin. Sometimes some hair may need to be clipped from the site.

Leads join the clips to an adjacent ECG machine which will give an immediate read-out. Readings are often taken over a period of several minutes and are analysed immediately.

Holter Monitoring

A Holter monitor is a special type of ECG which can be placed in a vest or backpack and worn for between 24 hours and 7 days. This is used to detect arrhythmias which occur only sporadically, or sometimes for monitoring antiarrhythmic treatment. The patient visits the clinic to have the Holter monitor fitted, and then usually goes home again until it is time to remove the monitor. While wearing the Holter backpack they are encouraged to exercise, rest and act as normal. When the monitor is removed, the results are sent away for analysis; this may take several days.

Radiography

Radiography of the chest (chest x-rays) may also be recommended. This allows us to assess the lungs for airway disease, to assess overall heart size and shape, and to look for fluid on or outside the lungs. As pets need to be carefully positioned and need to remain quite still for this test, a short acting sedative may be necessary for this test. The images obtained are reviewed and reported immediately.

Blood Tests

Sometimes blood tests may be recommended to help diagnose certain problems or to monitor medications. Your pet may have some hair clipped on their neck or legs if they need a blood test or intravenous medications.

Some blood tests can be analysed in-house and results are usually available on the same day. Other tests may need to be sent away to an external lab, and results can take 1 - 3 days.

On the Day

  • If your pet is already on medication for heart disease or other problems, it is important to give their usual meds on the morning of the test (unless otherwise instructed).
  • Ideally pets should be fasting on the morning of their tests; but if necessary, it is ok to give a small amount of food in order to administer tablets.
  • If you are travelling a long distance to be with us, please ensure you allow plenty of time to drive slowly and minimise stress to your pet; don’t forget you may need to allow for frequent water and toilet breaks.
  • For particularly anxious or stressed pets, please enquire with us before your visit. This allows us to plan ahead and give them extra time if necessary; there may also be medications or other steps we can recommend to reduce anxiety before their visit.

If you have any other enquiries about your pet’s heart disease or what to expect, please contact us; we are always happy to help.

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