The arrival of echocardiography - ultrasound of the heart - has resulted in the major advance in veterinary cardiology. With the use of a sophisticated ultrasound machine in the hands of a Specialist™ cardiologist the heart can be analysed in minute detail. The heart is seen beating, each valve is looked at and the size of each cardiac chamber and the thickness of the heart muscle wall can be measured. But most dramatic is the meaurement of the flow of blood through the heart valves. The direction of blood flow and the force of the flow can be measured. Tremendous experience and knowledge is needed to do a thorough accurate echo - cardiac ultrasound and it is therefore best done by a cardiac Specialist™.
What happens ?
Your animal is positioned in right and left lateral recumbency. A small patch of hair is clipped over the heart region (left and right) and caudally of the sternum in dogs. A probe is placed on the chest of your pet and a pulse of high-frequency sound is passed through the skin of the chest. Lubricating jelly is rubbed in first, to help make a good contact with the probe. The probe then picks up the echoes reflected from various parts of the heart and shows them as an echocardiogram - a picture on a screen. You can see different parts of the heart as the probe is moved around on your chest. Recording these images is a skilful job and can take up to an hour. The test doesn't hurt at all. The procedure does not affect the heart and does not cause any discomfort. Very occasionally animals patients might need a little sedation for this test. Make sure your animal is starved for 12 hours prior to the referral consult, in case sedation is necessary. Withold food but never withold water. The drug should be continued as usual, unless specified otherwise.
What can the test tell ?
Echocardiography gives information about the condition of your heart muscle (heart muscle disease = cardiomyopathy). It is also used routinely to assess animals with disease of the heart valves. It is especially useful for diagnosing heart disease in puppies and kittens (congenital heart disease).