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ECGs for Pets: When They're Needed

If your dog or cat has heart issues, they may require an ECG. In this blog post, our Long Island vets describe how ECGs for pets can help us diagnose specific cardiac problems and explain how we interpret the results.

What is an ECG? 

An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a safe, non-invasive tool that allows your veterinary cardiologist to evaluate the health of your pet's heart. This diagnostic test measures the heart's electrical activity and provides a visual representation of its functioning by attaching small sensors to the skin. 

What does an ECG tell your veterinarian about your pet?

An ECG pattern features three main parts: a small bump called the P-wave, a big spike known as the QRS complex, and another small bump referred to as the T-wave. 

The P-wave indicates the contraction of the atria, while the QRS complex represents the depolarization of the ventricles, which corresponds to the heartbeat. The T-wave indicates repolarization of the heart. 

When your veterinary cardiologist reviews the ECG, they look at wave shapes and the time between them. They will closely study the P-wave and QRS complex time, which indicate how fast the heart receives and pumps blood. 

Additionally, the peaks of the QRS complex and the distance between them yield valuable information. A consistent distance between the spikes indicates an irregular heartbeat, while variations point to an irregular heartbeat. 

What are normal cat and dog ECGs? 

The normal rhythm for a canine ECG should be between 60 and 170 beats per minute. the normal rhythm for a cat's ECG should be between 140 and 220 beats per minute. 

Are ECGs safe?

Yes, ECG tests are safe. ECG is a non-invasive diagnostic test your vet uses to monitor the heart passively. 

When would a vet use an ECG?

A vet may order an ECG in the following circumstances:

Abnormal Cardiovascular Rhythm 

Cardiac murmurs (abnormal heart sounds that occur during blood flow), and irregular heartbeats clearly indicate that a dog or cat may need an electrocardiogram (ECG). These manifestations often raise concerns regarding diastolic dysfunction, making it essential for your vet to perform an ECG examination on your dog or cat. 

ECGs are useful for diagnosing both heart-related diseases and other health conditions, and they are especially valuable for ruling out certain heart conditions. Plus, an ECG helps the vet determine the right treatment for any heart rhythm issues your pet may be experiencing. 

Breed Screening

Many dog and cat breeds can inherit a risk of heart disease. Some notable dog breeds include Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Boxers, and Cocker Spaniels. Similarly, certain cat breeds like Maine Coons, Persians, Ragdolls, and some American Shorthairs are also known to have this genetic tendency.

Thoracic Radiographic Changes Feline Echocardiography

Cats can be particularly challenging for cardiology patients because they can have severe cardiomyopathy or other heart diseases despite having no clinical signs. An ECG is often the only appropriate diagnostic test that is both specific and sensitive for cats.

Purebred cats have a higher incidence of heart disease. Therefore, an ECG evaluation is often recommended to confirm the presence of heart disease and determine the patient's therapeutic needs.

Thoracic Radiographic Changes

If your veterinary cardiologist discovers that your pet has an enlarged heart while reviewing an X-ray, this could be because the heart has grown bigger, there's excess fat around the heart, or it might just be because people's hearts vary in size naturally. After taking an X-ray, a veterinarian may order an ECG to help determine the size of each part of the heart. An ECG can also help pinpoint the cause of the enlarged heart seen on the X-ray. 

How much is an ECG for a dog or cat?

If you're curious about the cost, it's always best to contact a specialty veterinary hospital directly. Their team should be able to provide you with an accurate estimate.

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.

Are you seeing cardiac symptoms in your dog or cat? Contact us to schedule a cardiac exam. We can diagnose the issue and develop an individualized treatment plan.

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