ECG for Pets: When it's Needed?

Our veterinarian from O’Fallon will be sharing in this article all you need to know about ECGs for dogs and cats. You will learn about the circumstances that may prompt your vet to request one for your pet, as well as how to understand and interpret the results. 

What is an ECG?

Have you heard of an electrocardiogram (ECG), also called an EKG? This test is used to monitor the heart's activity by attaching tiny sensors to the skin, which measure its electrical signals. It is a safe and non-invasive procedure that provides valuable insights into the heart's behavior in both humans and animals.

What Does an ECG Tell Your Veterinarian About Your Pet?

Your veterinarian may perform an ECG test to gather vital information about your pet's heart. This test measures the rate and rhythm of your pet's heartbeat, as well as the electrical impulses in different parts of their heart. The ECG pattern consists of three parts: the P wave, the QRS complex, and the T wave. 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. 

Your vet will examine the shape and distance of these waves to ensure they are correct. They will also focus on the PR interval and the QRS complex interval, which reveals how fast the heart is taking in and pumping out blood. Moreover, they will measure the distance between the peaks of the QRS complex to determine if the heartbeat is regular or irregular. They will also count the number of QRS complexes to calculate the heart rate. 

It's worth noting that the rate and rhythm of cats and dogs can vary, depending on their breed. Your veterinarian can help you understand what's normal for your furry friend.

Are ECG Safe

Yes, ECG tests are safe. ECG is a non-invasive diagnostic test that passively monitors the heart.

When Would a Vet Use an ECG

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

Abnormal Cardiovascular Physical Exam

When evaluating dogs and cats, unusual heart sounds such as murmurs, gallops, and irregular rhythms could suggest an issue with the heart's ability to relax and fill with blood. If this is the case, a recommended course of action is to undergo an echocardiogram to check for any heart disease. An echocardiogram can also diagnose arrhythmias that may be caused by both heart and non-heart-related factors. This test is essential in identifying any underlying cardiac problems and selecting the appropriate treatment plan to manage the patient's arrhythmia.

Breed Screening

Some breeds of dogs and cats are genetically predisposed to heart disease. A heart specialist may use a stethoscope to listen for unusual sounds to ensure that their heart is functioning normally. If any are detected, a more comprehensive evaluation called an echo is advised. However, for some breeds, an echo is always necessary to detect any potential heart problems.

Thoracic Radiographic Changes

Enlarged heart, also known as cardiomegaly, can have various causes, such as cardiac enlargement, pericardial fat buildup, or differences among patients. A specific test called an echocardiogram is conducted to determine the size of each heart chamber and identify the cause of cardiomegaly seen on radiographs. Echocardiogram is also effective in detecting congestive heart failure and pulmonary hypertension.

Feline Echocardiography

Diagnosing heart problems in cats can be challenging as they may not exhibit any visible symptoms despite having severe issues. For an accurate diagnosis, an echocardiogram is usually the best option. Purebred cats are more prone to heart problems, and it's beneficial to get them checked via echocardiogram. If heart disease is suspected, confirming the diagnosis and determining the treatment plan through an echocardiogram is recommended.

Pre-Anesthetic Evaluation

Before placing a dog or cat under anesthesia, it can be helpful to obtain a complete understanding of the patient's cardiovascular status.

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.

Worried about your pet's heart? Please contact our O’Fallon veterinarians to book an appointment