Welcome to the VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital’s Cardiology Department! We are here to provide gentle compassionate care for your cat or dog in the field of cardiology. We have the latest equipment and treatment modalities available to best help your pet. We are happy to discuss our recommendations and procedures with you during your appointment so you can make the best decision for your pet.
What Is Veterinary Cardiology?
Veterinary Cardiology is the branch of medicine that treats diseases of the canine and feline cardiovascular system, which includes the heart and blood vessels. Dogs and cats can suffer from a variety of problems related to their heart and lungs, many of which are similar to their human companions. This encompasses such ailments as canine and feline congestive heart failure, hypertension, dilated and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and valvular disorders. Because the function of your pet's heart and lungs are interrelated, veterinary cardiologists are also knowledgeable about lung disease as well as diseases of the chest cavity. A board certified veterinary cardiologist is a licensed veterinarian who has obtained intensive, additional training in veterinary cardiology and has been certified by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM).
While your veterinary general practitioner can diagnose and treat many health problems, certain diseases and conditions require the care of a doctor who has had specialized, intensive training in veterinary cardiology in order to provide the very best outcome for your pet.
Symptoms of Canine or Feline Heart Problems
• Exercise intolerance
• Shortness of breath or apparent difficulty in breathing
• Fast breathing at rest (although don't confuse this with normal panting)
• Fainting spells
• Elevated heart rate
What Can Be Done if My Pet Has A Heart Problem?
Many of the same types of diagnostic tools and treatment options that are used to help keep human heart patients alive and healthy are also available to pets. For example, sophisticated diagnostic options (see box below) can help determine whether heart problems are present and, if so, assess their severity. Depending on your pet's particular problem, cardiac catheterization, angioplasty, pacemaker implantation, and cardiac surgery to repair heart defects are available.. In addition, many of the medications used in pets are similar to those that are also used in humans.
Will My Regular Veterinarian Still Be Involved?
In most circumstances, your regular veterinarian will still supervise your pet's veterinary care. In other cases, your referral doctor may take over the majority of your pet's medical care. It depends on your pet's particular disease and condition.
Did You Know?
According to the AVMA, one out of every 10 dogs and cats has heart disease. Many pets with heart disease are asymptomatic.
If you suspect that your dog or cat has a heart problem, contact the veterinary cardiologists at VCA today.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Heartworm Disease: When Prevention Fails
Veterinary cardiologists are often called upon when a pet is suffering from a suspected heartworm infection. Although there are excellent preventive medications on the market, veterinarians still see cases of this dreaded disease either due to owners forgetting to administer the preventive medication or not realizing that their pet is at risk in a particular region or time of year. The good news is that, at least for dogs, treatment options have improved. There are drugs that can be administered to remove the worms. Cases of heartworm infection in cats, although comparatively more rare, are more difficult to deal with. When a heartworm infection is detected in cats, the treatment is typically limited to close monitoring of the cat and supportive care until the worms die off. In rare cases, surgical removal of the worms may be recommended.
- What Additional Training Does A Board Certified Veterinary Cardiologist Have?
A veterinarian who has been awarded this specialty status by the ACVIM will list the initials, 'DACVIM (Cardiology)' after his or her DVM degree. Or, the veterinarian may indicate that he or she is a 'Diplomate' of the ACVIM (cardiology). The word 'Diplomate' typically means the specialist has achieved the following:
- Obtained a traditional veterinary degree (three to four years of college plus four years of veterinary school).
- Completed a one year internship and an additional two to three years of advanced training, including a residency at an approved program where the doctor will have trained with some of the best experts in the field and obtained hands on experience. As part of their training program, veterinary cardiologists receive extensive training in a variety of diagnostic imaging techniques, including veterinary echocardiography and angiography.
- Following this training, the aspiring veterinary cardiologist must pass a series of examinations covering all aspects of general internal medicine and veterinary cardiology.
After completing and passing all of these rigorous requirements, the veterinarian is then recognized by peers as a board certified specialist in veterinary cardiology, and will list the credentials, 'DVM, DACVIM (Cardiology),' after his or her name. When your pet needs the care of a veterinary cardiologist, the focus will be on helping him or her to recover and enjoy the highest quality of life possible.
- Why Does My Pet Need A Veterinary Cardiologist?
Just as your own primary care physician may feel the need to refer you to the care of a specialist from time to time, your general practitioner veterinarian may feel your pet needs a veterinary cardiologist to help diagnose or treat a problem. While your general practitioner veterinarian can handle many aspects of your pet's care, there is sometimes a need for the attention of a specialist. You can be assured that a veterinarian who knows when to refer you and your pet for more specialized diagnostic work or treatment is one that is caring and committed to ensuring that your pet receives the highest standard of medical care for his or her condition. While in some cases, your veterinarian may be able to simply consult with a specialist about your pet's care, in other cases it is necessary to actually refer you and your pet to the specialist for more advanced diagnostics and treatment. Board certified veterinary cardiologists also have access to specialized diagnostic or treatment tools that a general practitioner veterinarian may not have.
- What Is Canine and Feline Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)?
Canine or Feline Heart disease refers to a condition where there is an abnormality of the heart. Canine and Feline Heart failure exists when the heart is no longer able to adequately pump blood to meet the needs of the body. Symptoms of canine and feline heart failure include a frequent cough, increased breathing rate or effort, and the build-up of fluid. Symptoms of heart failure may be more pronounced in active pets as they are more likely to place a demand on their cardiovascular systems whereas the problem may go undetected in more sedentary pets.
The severity of heart failure is often staged, using the following guideline:
- Asymptomatic: Heart disease may be present but there are no outward signs. A cardiac murmur or arrhythmia may be present.
- Mild to moderate heart failure: Clinical signs of heart failure are evident at rest or with mild exercise.
- Advanced heart failure: Critical clinical signs, such as respiratory distress, fluid build-up, or profound exercise intolerance.
- With each advancing stage, the prognosis worsens and the need for treatment of the dog or cat increases.
- What is Chronic Valve Disease?
Chronic Valve Disease (CVD), also known as mitral or tricuspid valve disease or endocardiosis, is a group of diseases characterized by degeneration and fibrosis of the mitral and/or tricuspid valves of the heart. It most commonly affects the mitral valve in dogs, cats, and horses. It is less common in cats, but occurs more commonly in the smaller dog breeds, particularly the miniature poodle, Pomeranian, Chihuahua, dachshund, and cocker spaniel.
- What is Dilated Cardiomyopathy?
While valve disease is the most common heart ailment in smaller breeds of dogs, larger breeds are more prone to suffer from dilated cardiomyopathy. Dilated cardiomyopathy involves the enlargement and thinning of the heart's chambers, which can lead to lowered heart function and congestive heart failure.
- What Is Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy?
The most common heart disease in cats, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), is a heart muscle disease in which the walls of the heart, specifically the left ventricle, become abnormally thickened. As the disease progresses, it alters the structure of the heart and impairs its function. It is a potentially serious disease that is found in cats of all ages. A cat that seems healthy can suddenly become very ill or even die. There currently is no cure, although there are medications veterinarians and veterinary cardiologists can prescribe to help alleviate and control the symptoms.
- What Is A Canine or Feline Heart Murmur?
A heart murmur is a sound caused by turbulent blood flow in the heart. Murmurs can occur due to a variety of structural abnormalities, such as a leaky valve or a narrowed outflow tract,. Heart murmurs are graded according to severity, from a grade I to grade VI. The grade of the murmur does not necessarily correlate with the severity of the underlying disease, however, soft murmurs often do not need treatment.
My dog or cat needs general anesthesia for a procedure (such as a dental cleaning), and he/she was previously diagnosed to have a heart murmur. What do I do?
It is recommended to look into changes in the structure and function of the heart (with x-rays of the chest or an ultrasound of the heart) when a murmur is present prior to general anesthesia. If there are significant abnormalities in the heart, recommendations can be made to adjust anesthetic protocol to make it as safe as possible for your pet in the presence of heart disease.
Should I be concerned if my new puppy or kitten is found to have a murmur?
Soft systolic murmurs in a puppy or kitten under 6 months of age can either be an innocent/benign murmur or it could indicate a more significant problem. If a murmur is a continuous murmur or if it persists beyond 6 months of age, it is highly recommended to consult with a veterinary cardiologist. Some congenital abnormalities (meaning present from birth) can be repaired and the pet can live a normal life if caught early enough.
Should I be concerned if my dog is having episodes of fainting or weakness?
Any episodes involving weakness or collapse, with or without loss of consciousness, should be further looked into. This Is often a cardiac or neurologic problem. Structural abnormalities in the heart, the onset of congestive heart failure, pulmonary hypertension, or arrhythmias can all cause episodes of varying degree of severity. After an examination, you can discuss with your cardiologist the recommended tests to further investigate the cause of the episodes.
- What Is Pericardial Effusion?
This is a buildup of fluid in the membranous sac surrounding the pet's heart. This can be caused by various types of heart tumors although, in many cases, no apparent cause can be found. If a large amount of fluid is present, it can compress the heart and prevent it from working properly. Heart sounds will be muffled and x-rays may show an enlarged balloon-like heart due to the fluid. In this case the fluid will need to be removed to allow the heart to function properly.
- The Veterinary Cardiology Exam: What to Expect
The veterinary cardiologist will start with a complete physical exam. Canine or feline heart murmurs can often be heard and detected with a simple stethoscope. The veterinary cardiologist will also listen to your pet’s lungs, check the pulse rate, the color of the mucous membranes, as well as examine him or her for any physical evidence of fluid buildup in the abdomen or extremities. Other diagnostic tests that are useful when attempting to pinpoint or rule out heart disease include:
Chest X-Rays: These pictures allow the veterinary cardiologist to assess your pet's heart and lungs and also provide information that can help tell the doctor whether or not your pet is suffering from congestive heart failure.
Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): This test records the electrical activity of the heart and can tell whether heartbeats are normal or not. An ECG has a recognizable pattern showing the 'peaks and valleys' of the heart's activity. Each point on the tracing depicts how well each specific part of the heart is doing its job. An ECG also provides valuable information about a suspected arrhythmia.
Cardiac Ultrasound (Echocardiogram): This test allows the visual examination of the interior of the heart, its valves, and its surrounding structures via ultrasonography. It is a sophisticated diagnostic tool which, when combined with other components of a complete cardiac workup 'can provide veterinary cardiologists with a complete diagnostic picture of your pet's illness and help outline a treatment course for him or her.
Doppler Echocardiography: A more advanced form of ultrasonography, this sophisticated technology can enhance the diagnostic information gained from standard two-dimensional ultrasounds. In short, sound waves are bounced off of moving red blood cells in order to determine the movement and force of blood flow within the heart. There are three types of Doppler ultrasound: continuous wave, pulsed wave, and color flow. Each type is helpful in diagnosing and/or assessing the severity of different types of heart problems.
Holter Monitor: This is a 24-hour continuous ECG recording that can provide information about heart activity while the pet is at home and engaged in normal activities. The pet wears the monitor in a specially fitted vest.
Blood Pressure Monitoring: Your pet's blood pressure can be checked and monitored in much the same way as is done in people.
Services Offered in Cardiology
- Electrocardiography (ECG)
- Holter monitoring
- Blood chemistry analyzer
- Thoracic ultrasonography / thoracocentesis
- Continuous ECG monitoring and telemetry
- Direct blood pressure monitoring