The Cardiology Service of Newtown Veterinary Specialists offers comprehensive evaluation and treatment of cardiovascular diseases in small animals by Dr. Justin Carlson.
Appointments are available Monday to Friday. To schedule an appointment or to learn more about the specialty services available at Newtown Veterinary Specialists, please call 203-270-VETS (8387).
What is Veterinary Cardiology?
Veterinary Cardiology is the branch of veterinary medicine focusing on the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular (heart and vessels) disease in animals. This includes such disorders as congestive heart failure, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, dilated cardiomyopathy, degenerative valve disease, systemic hypertension, arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm), congenital heart disease, and diagnosis of cardiac tumors. Although your family veterinarian can diagnose and treat many problems very well, there are some conditions that require specialized diagnostics and care in order to optimize the outcome for your pet.
What are possible signs of heart disease in animals?
- Exercise intolerance
- Rapid breathing at rest (not to be confused with normal panting)
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Difficulty resting comfortably
- Episodes of weakness or collapse
- Fainting spells
- Sudden inability to walk in one or more limbs with pain. This may be a sign of heart disease in cats.
- Abdominal swelling with fluid
What should you do before you come to see the cardiologist?
For your first visit please ensure that we receive all of your pet’s pertinent medical records and diagnostic tests. This includes recent chest radiographs (x-rays). Although some tests may need to be repeated this will allow us to avoid unnecessary repetition of tests.
Please bring your pet’s current medications and do not stop any medications your veterinarian recommended prior to the visit unless otherwise instructed by your veterinarian.
What should I expect during my consultation with the cardiologist?
In general you will first meet the cardiology technician who will collect a detailed medical history, your pet’s temperature, heart and respiratory rates and potentially a blood pressure. The cardiologist will then perform a physical examination. Based on these findings the cardiologist will provide recommendations for diagnostic tests and potentially emergency treatment. You will be provided with an estimate for testing and treatment. An echocardiogram is performed in most cases. After diagnostic tests are performed the cardiologist will thoroughly discuss all the findings, diagnoses, treatment options and anticipated prognosis with you.
We will provide our services with care and compassion, treating you and your pet with integrity. We understand that for most of us our pets are an extension of our family and we will be there to help in any way we can. If necessary we will collaborate with other specialty services such as internal medicine, surgery, emergency and critical care and ophthalmology to provide a comprehensive approach. Your veterinarian will be informed of the findings and planned treatments and will receive a thorough report.
Please expect the first consultation to generally last 1-1.5 hours. If extensive testing or consultations with other specialists are needed it could be longer. We try our best to stay on schedule. However, priority will be given to emergencies and rarely delays can occur.
In some cases your pet needs to be hospitalized for intensive care and treatment. At NVS your pets are monitored closely with the help of our highly trained and compassionate technicians. A doctor will call you daily with updates on your pet’s progress.
What can be done if my pet has heart disease?
A lot of the options for diagnosis and treatment of heart disease in people are also used in pets to prolong life and improve the quality of life. Sophisticated diagnostic tests that can be performed during an appointment such as electrocardiography, radiography and echocardiography are used to evaluate for the presence and severity of heart disease. Some heart conditions are simply monitored over time to assess for progression. Medications may be recommended to help your pet feel better or prevent progression of disease, many of these medications are similar to those used in people. Depending on your pet’s particular problem further diagnostics or treatments with cardiac catheterization, cardiac surgery or pacemaker implantation may be needed.
Services offered in Cardiology
Echocardiography is an advanced imaging technique where an ultrasound examination of the heart is performed. It uses sound waves to safely image the heart chambers and evaluate the function of the heart and heart valves and blood flow through the heart. This is a non-invasive diagnostic technique, which in general is very well tolerated. Most pets do not require any sedation but this will depend on their temperament. For most cases a small area is shaved on the chest behind each elbow to facilitate good imaging. Different imaging modalities are used for a complete evaluation.
This modality allows evaluation of the anatomy of the heart and the pump function of the heart. The heart is evaluated from multiple planes to get a global assessment.
M-mode echocardiography is a technique to visualize the movement of the heart over time. This technique allows more accurate measurements of certain heart chambers and evaluation of pump function.
Doppler echocardiography (color, tissue and spectral Doppler)
This technology allows the cardiologist to visualize blood flow through the heart. Blood flow is color coded by the machine allowing visualization of the direction, characteristics and speed of blood flow. This allows identification of possible flow disturbances, obstruction to normal blood flow through the heart and great vessels, regurgitation (leak) from abnormal valves, and diagnosis of congenital heart defects.
- Blood Pressure Monitoring
Your pet’s blood pressure can have an impact on the severity of heart disease and dosages of medications that may need to be prescribed. Some pets, just like people, can also develop high blood pressure which can seriously impact the body, lead to severe heart disease and even blindness. Most times we will evaluate your pet’s blood pressure before other testing as to minimize effects of stress in the hospital.
- Electrocardiography (ECG or EKG)
An electrocardiogram (ECG) is performed to evaluate your pet’s heart rate and rhythm in order to identify and diagnose potential rhythm disturbances (arrhythmias). For this test your pet simply needs to lie down on one side and small clips are placed on the skin. This is non-invasive and generally does not require any sedation. The cardiologist will then use this information to determine a rhythm diagnosis, and plan potential treatment. Other diagnostic tests may be required to further evaluate the cause of an arrhythmia and to determine the best treatment plan.
- Holter (24 ECG) Monitoring
A Holter monitor is a portable continuous electrocardiogram that your pet would wear at home. This monitor allows the cardiologist to evaluate your pet’s heart rate and rhythm over a 24 hour period during normal activity. This is used to better evaluate the frequency and severity of certain arrhythmias (abnormal rhythm) or to attempt to identify intermittent arrhythmias. It is also the best way to evaluate the response to anti-arrhythmic treatments.
- Event Monitoring
Episodic collapsing or fainting spells can be caused by intermittent heart rhythm disturbances that may not be identified during the consultation. An event monitor may be needed to attempt to evaluate the heart rhythm during the episode. Your pet wears this monitor at home and if you see an episode a button is pressed to mark this for later evaluation. Once 2-3 events are marked this monitor is removed and the rhythm analyzed. This monitor can be worn for up to 4 weeks. Episodes must be frequent enough to warrant this test.
- Thoracic Radiographs
Thoracic radiographs (chest x-rays) allow us to evaluate the size and shape of the heart, the lungs and their vessels. This is the best way to initially evaluate the cause of respiratory signs such as difficulty breathing and coughing. This is a necessary diagnostic test in those cases as both heart and primary lung diseases can cause respiratory difficulties. If treatment for congestive heart failure is started this is the best way to determine whether congestive heart failure is controlled.
Some patients can develop fluid between the fibrous sac (pericardium) that surrounds the heart and the heart. In majority of cases this is secondary to a cancer affecting the heart. This is a potentially fatal condition and removal of the fluid is needed as soon as possible, this is called pericardiocentesis. With ultrasound guidance a catheter is placed through the sac into the fluid allowing removal of the fluid. Generally this is a safe procedure although some complications can occur.