Diagnostic tests are incredibly helpful when it comes to helping to figure out what's wrong with our furry friends. In this post, our Westfield vets share some information about ECGs for dogs and cats and common situations when your vet may request one.
What are ECGs for dogs and cats?
An ECG, also called an EKG, is an acronym for electrocardiogram. It is a test performed in our diagnostic laboratory to monitor your pet's heart. Little sensors attached to the skin monitor electrical activity to give a representation of what the heart is doing.
This test allows us to see how your dog or cat's heart is functioning without the use of a surgical procedure.
What does an ECG show us?
An ECG tells your vet several things about your pet's heart. For one, it gives the rate and rhythm of the heartbeat. It also gives them an understanding of the electrical impulses that are going through each section of the heart.
A typical ECG consists of a pattern: a small bump that rises up, called the P-wave, then a large spike upward, called the QRS complex, and then another small bump called the T-wave.
The P-wave represents the atria contracting. The QRS complex is when the ventricles depolarize, or the large contraction of the heart that is the typical 'heartbeat'. The T-wave represents the heart repolarizing.
Your vet will make sure the shape of the wave is correct, and also measure the distance between the various parts of the wave. Often, the concerns are the information provided by the P-Wave and the QRS complex interval. These tell how fast the heart is taking in blood and how fast it is pumping it.
The next major source of information is the peaks of the QRS complex and the distance between them. If there is a constant distance between the spikes you have a regular heartbeat. If they vary, you have an irregular heartbeat.
What is the normal heart rate for a dog or cat?
The normal rhythm for a canine ECG should be 60 to 170 beats per minute. The normal rhythm of cats should be 140 to 220 beats per minute.
Is it safe for my pet to have an ECG?
ECGs for pets are safe and non-invasive diagnostic tests that monitor the rhythm of the heart in a passive way.
What are the next steps after my pet has an ECG?
Once the ECG is complete and you have received your pet's results your vet will explain what the next steps will be. These recommendations will depend on your pet's diagnosis but may include medications available in our veterinary pharmacy. If your cat or dog requires medication your vet will provide you with clear instructions about dosage and duration as well as the prescription which you can bring to the pet pharmacy to be filled.
When are ECGs requested?
Some examples of when a vet may order an ECG are:
Abnormal Cardiovascular Rhythm
Cardiac murmurs, gallop sounds, and arrhythmias are some obvious abnormalities that may necessitate an ECF. These can often be an indication of diastolic dysfunction and an ECG is always warranted when this occurs in dogs and cats.
ECGs can be caused by intracardiac or extracardiac disease, and an ECG helps rule out primary cardiomyopathy and/or infiltrative cardiac disease. The ECG also helps to determine appropriate anti-arrhythmic therapy for the individual patient.
There are certain breeds of dogs that are predisposed to developing heart conditions. Dog breeds include the Doberman Pinscher, the Great Dane, the Boxer, and the Cocker Spaniel, just to name a few. Cat breeds include the Maine Coon, the Persian, the Ragdoll, and some American Shorthairs
Thoracic Radiographic Changes
Cardiomegaly noted on radiographs can be due to cardiac enlargement, pericardial fat accumulation, and/or patient variability. An ECG is the most specific tool for determining the size of each cardiac chamber and is very in determining a cause for radiographic cardiomegaly.
Cats can be particularly challenging 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 therapeutic needs of the patient.
What is the cost of ECGs for pets?
The cost of ECGs and other diagnostic tests are affected by a number of different factors including the age and breed of your pet, other services that are performed and the clinic itself. Speak with your vet for more information about the expected cost of your pet's visit.
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.