SASH is proud to offer a well-established cardiology service with Dr Phil Brain, Dr Justin Wimpole and Dr Rita Singh
Heart problems are common in older dogs and cats but can be seen in pets of all ages and with other medical issues. Pets may need cardiac examination for problems including:
- Heart murmurs
- Irregular heartbeats
- Respiratory complaints
- Weakness or fainting
- Exercise intolerance
A cardiac examination is also often requested as part of the pre-anaesthetic assessment before pets are admitted to other services (e.g. internal medicine, surgery, ophthalmology).
Most animals can be evaluated using non-invasive examination methods and we also offer minimally invasive (catheter-based) interventions for certain congenital heart defects. Cardiac pacemakers can also be implanted in dogs with abnormally slow heart rates.
The Diagnostics and Procedures in Cardiology
ECHOCARDIOGRAPHY (CARDIAC ULTRASOUND)
An echocardiogram is the main non-invasive technique that allows cardiologists to examine your pet’s heart. Not only does it come with no discomfort, but dogs and cats will only have to lie on a padded table usually with no or just a little sedation, for the examination. The cardiac ultrasound means the vet can see a sonar image of the heart and adjacent large blood vessels. This allows evaluation of the heart size, whether there are leaky valves or narrowed vessels leaving the heart.
Also known as an ECG, a resting electrocardiogram records the electrical activity of the heart. It allows vets to identify rapid, slow, or irregular heart rates such as abnormal beats (arrhythmias) or abnormally conducted beats (heart block, bundle branch block). By knowing what abnormal rhythm is present, we can best determine the treatment to help your pet.
Sometimes a short resting ECG is not sufficient to tell us whether there are abnormal beats or not and so a longer ECG can be used to record the electrical activity of the heart for 24 to 72 hours. It’s necessary for some pets whose symptoms don’t all occur at the time, or to look at how severe or often the abnormal heart beat occurs. It’s called a continuous ambulatory ECG recorder (or Holter monitor) and is attached to the animal via chest electrodes, with the pet sent home carrying the system in a vest. When the recording has been made, you just need to return the vest and recorder back to SASH. The ECG is stored on a small memory card, which is transferred to a computer for analysis. From there, the cardiologist will look at the entire ECG and discuss treatments.
CARDIAC CATHETERISATION AND INTERVENTION
Sometimes more invasive procedures may be required for both diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. When this happens, small catheters are inserted into blood vessels of anesthetised pets and are guided through the heart using fluoroscopic radiography. Most animals have these procedures for one of 3 common congenital abnormalities.
- PDA (Patent ductus arterosis) – this is where the vessel present in the womb does not close (as it should) after birth. We can insert a plug to close this vessel and restore normal blood flow.
- Pulmonic stenosis – this is where the valve in the vessel going to the lungs is fused. We can insert a balloon which tears this valve and helps to normalise the flow through it.
- Cardiac pacemaker – this is where an artificial electronic impulse helps drive the heart beat when the patient’s own “pacemaker” does no work properly.
As these procedures are minimally invasive, patients are often only in hospital for a day or so and are left with a very small surgical wound (less than 1cm).