Just like humans, animals are also susceptible to cardiac diseases. Although the progression of cardiac diseases in our pets is different to humans, the signs, symptoms, and the treatment are oftentimes the same.
One of the most common reasons for a cardiac examination referral is a heart murmur, or irregular heartbeat. A heart murmur is oftentimes discovered during a routine clinical examination which is performed prior to vaccinations or during an annual check up.
A heart murmur by itself, cannot be distinguished into a "good" or "bad" heart murmur and cannot indicate what type of heart disease the patient may have. The murmur is simply a different sound of the heart. However, it is an indication that the patient should undergo a cardiological exam to determine how the heart is functioning and to gain insight into any potential problems that may occur with the heart.
Since the cardiovascular system is extremely resilient, it is very common that the patient shows no symptoms or warning signs of impending cardiovascular disease. The heart compensates any damage for a very long time, up until the moment when it exceeds its capacity and causes sudden cardiac or respiratory failure, which then becomes life threatening for the animal.
A cardiological exam is based on 4 parts:
- The basis of the any exam is a thorough clinical examination which includes collecting all of the relevant patient information, and clinical history.
- In case of an irregular heart beat, an electrocardiogram (ECG) may be performed to determine the origin of the irregularities.
- A chest x-ray is a crucial part of the exam, and it allows a full visualization of the heart and lungs in relation to one another and to the rest of the chest of the patient. It also enables the doctor to determine whether the heart appears normal, or if there appear to be signs of beginning heart failure.
- Finally, an echocardiographic examination will be performed. This is an integral part of evaluating any potential cardiac diseases and allows us to visualize the internal areas of the heart, determine if any heart valves may be leaking, determine the contraction rate of the heart, and measure the flow-rate within the major vessels supplying the heart.
None of these procedures are invasive in any way for the patient and only require that they lay on their side for several minutes. Sedation is almost never required, however it may be necessary in very fractious or aggressive animals.