Pet Electrocardiograms

An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a test that is most often used to review the heart of your pet. When your dog’s or cat’s heart beats, there is an electrical signal that is generated inside the heart. These signals that pass through the heart are recorded through an ECG (also known as an EKG).

When we review these electrical signals we are able to see if there are abnormalities within your pet’s heart. Abnormalities that could be diagnosed after reviewing the ECG may include arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), abnormal conductions and other potential heart defects.

ECG monitoring is also used the entirety of the time your pet is under general anesthesia or sedation to ensure we catch any abnormalities quickly if they were to happen. This is a valuable tool to ensure the entire procedure is performed as safely as possible.

If we ever find any concerning findings with a pre-anesthetic ECG or on a physical exam, we will assist you with taking a closer look at the heart with advanced imaging (known as an echocardiogram). Echocardiograms are ultrasounds of the heart and associated tissues, which we do not perform, but we would help you with a referral to a cardiologist if needed.

Symptoms That Would Prompt An ECG

  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Abnormal lung sounds
  • An irregular heartbeat
  • A heart murmur
  • Irregular pulses

How Is an Electrocardiogram Performed?

We perform pet ECGs in veterinary medicine routinely. No special preparation is required for this procedure.

To perform an ECG, your pet will need to remain still. They will either be standing or lying down on an exam table in our mobile hospital. We apply electrodes to your pet’s skin at the base of each of their four legs. We may also apply a special conduction gel or rubbing alcohol to your pet during this procedure. These applications can help electrical signals travel more easily to the ECG machine, which allows for better recordings.

Once the testing begins, we will keep your pet still for only a short period of time to get an adequate reading. Your pet’s electrical signals may be traced from a minute up to several minutes. The amount of time we trace is dependent on your pet’s cooperation.

What Do You Learn From an Electrocardiogram?

An ECG can provide us with a variety of information about your dog or cat's heart function.

  1. Is the heart rate normal? An ECG allows us to determine your pet’s heart rate. It can show whether their heart is beating at a normal pace, too rapidly or too slowly for their breed. This can suggest medical issues that may warrant further investigation.
  2. Is the heart rhythm normal? An ECG gives us a very accurate way to assess your pet’s heart rhythm. If there is an abnormality, the results of the ECG will allow us to diagnose the arrhythmia and potentially diagnose the underlying causes.
  3. Does the pet's heart size appear to be normal? Enlarged heart tissue produces electricity differently than normal-sized heart tissue. With that said, an ECG can potentially suggest abnormalities in the size of a specific heart chamber. This method is not considered completely accurate but can prompt us to further investigate.

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