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Demystifying Echocardiograms for Cats & Dogs

If your pet has shown any signs of a heart-related issue they may be recommended to a veterinary cardiologist who will perform echocardiography. Here, our Westminster veterinary specialists discuss echocardiograms for dogs and cats, including why and when they may be needed.

What is veterinary echocardiography? 

A veterinary echocardiogram (also known as a cardiac ultrasound) is a non-invasive diagnostic tool that allows a veterinary cardiologist to assess the condition of your cat or dog's heart. It uses high-frequency sound waves to form a picture of your pet's heart. 

While having a healthy heart is just as important to our pets as it is to us, our four-legged friends can also develop health problems and abnormalities. If your cat or dog's heart is not working properly, they may become extremely ill and experience unpleasant and debilitating symptoms. A veterinary heart condition can even prove fatal, which is why early detection, diagnosis and effective cardiological treatment are key to positive outcomes. 

What can echocardiograms show for dogs or cats?

A veterinary sonographer can perform an echocardiogram to examine the structure of your pet's heart visually. Important insights into your cat or dog's heart health can be revealed as a result of the procedure, including:

  • The size of the heart 
  • The thickness of the heart's walls 
  • The shape of the heart 
  • How effectively the heart is pumping 

Symptoms That Trigger the Need for an Echocardiogram

Your pet may need to undergo an echocardiogram if they show symptoms related to heart disease such as:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fainting
  • Coughing
  • Exercise intolerance

What are some issues in dogs and cats that are shown using echocardiograms?

An echocardiogram can identify a range of heart problems, including but not limited to: 

  • Cardiac arrhythmias 
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Heart murmur
  • Congenital (present from birth) heart defects that may require treatment or special care
  • Abnormalities or damage in the valves, pericardium (the sac surrounding the heart), or other areas of the heart 
  • Abnormal blood flow
  • Potential blood clots 

Echocardiograms and other diagnostic tests are essential tools that can help your veterinary cardiologist make a life-saving diagnosis and develop an effective treatment or disease management plan for your dog or cat. 

Sometimes, a veterinary cardiologist or sonographer may also recommend a chest X-ray to check for symptoms related to heart problems. For example, fluid in your cat or dog's lungs may point to congestive heart failure. These insights allow us to develop an individualized treatment plan to correctly manage and address your cat's illness. 

Are echocardiograms safe for pets? 

Echocardiography is minimally invasive and can be performed without pain relief medication. However, some vets or veterinary cardiologists may need to provide some sedation to keep your cat or dog completely still for the procedure, which will help improve the clarity of images and allow for more accurate assessment and diagnosis. This procedure is generally considered safe and your veterinary cardiologist can discuss any requirement for sedation with you, along with other questions or concerns you may have. 

How to prepare your pet for an echocardiogram?

Echocardiograms for dogs and cats are typically performed on an outpatient basis. Because this procedure is non-invasive and straightforward, there is no preparation needed prior to your pet's visit.

What to Expect During the Echocardiogram

During your pet's echocardiogram procedure, your pet will need to lie on its side and a special ultrasound gel will be applied to its chest to allow the sound waves that produce the image of the heart to travel more efficiently. The procedure typically takes about 20 minutes. 

Your veterinary sonographer may need to shave your pet's coat to allow the transducer to make direct contact with the skin. The transducer is then placed over the skin and will send sound waves to the heart, which are translated to images on a screen. The sonographer will move the transducer around in strategic areas, so all areas of the heart can be seen and assessed. 

What will happen after my cat or dog's echocardiogram?

Following your cat or dog's echocardiogram appointment, your veterinary specialist will analyze the results, explain the diagnosis, and develop a plan to manage or treat your dog's condition. In some cases, the progression of heart disease has become easier and less expensive to manage. Heart failure is also much easier to prevent than treat with appropriate preventive veterinary care, advanced specialty and post-surgical treatment, and monitoring. 

Depending on your cat or dog's condition and which stage it has reached, your veterinary cardiologist at Choice Veterinary Specialists may opt to monitor the problem, start preventive measures, or implement a treatment plan to prolong your four-legged companion's life. Treatment may include monitoring your pet's nutrition, activity, and medication, in addition to guiding management, prognosis, and any actions they recommend you take at home. 

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.

Has your pet shown signs of possible heart issues? Ask your primary care vet about a referral to our specialty animal hospital. Our veterinary specialists at Choice Veterinary Specialists have experience in diagnosing and treating a variety of heart-related conditions.

New Patients Welcome

Choice Veterinary Specialists is accepting new patients. Our experienced veterinary specialists are passionate about improving the health of Westminster animals with complex healthcare needs. Contact us today.

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