How do we investigate heart problems?
The first step is always a consultation with the vet- who will carry out a thorough examination including listening carefully to the chest & feeling pulses, as well as examining the rest of the body.
Following this we usually need to carry out some tests; these often include blood tests, electrocardiography (ECG), blood pressure measurement, x-rays, and ultrasound.
ECG is an interpretation of the electrical activity of the heart detected by electrodes attached to the outer surface of the skin. ECG is used primarily to measure the rate and regularity of heartbeats, and is the best test for abnormal heart rhythms.
A Holter monitor (ambulatory ECG device) is an extension of the ECG - a portable device which lets us continuously monitor the electrical activity of the cardiovascular system for several days. We use these most often for a period of two or three days when investigating occasional cardiac arrhythmias or events such as collapse, which would be difficult to identify in a shorter period of time.
Heart Scans - Ultrasound Examination
Echocardiography is one of the most widely used diagnostic tests in cardiology.
It provides a wealth of helpful information, including the size and shape of the heart, pumping capacity, and location and extent of any abnormality or damage.
Most pets have their examination completely conscious but very nervous animals might need a light sedative to allow us to examine them. Ultrasound examinations almost always requires us to clip some hair on both sides of the chest, and often also under the breastbone.
In most cases, we record a simultaneous ECG showing the electrical stimulation of the heart also.
Radiography (x-rays) are another important tool in cardiology- they show the size of the heart, give an indications of fluid accumulating in or around the lungs (as in heart failure), as well as the position of blood vessels and airways within the chest.
Blood and urine tests- these are used less in cardiology than in other areas of medicine although there are a few specific cardiac tests we use in some cases. We often need to monitor the red and white blood cells and organs such as liver and especially kidneys during therapy for heart failure.