Pet Cardiology

A cardiologist is a veterinarian who is BOARD CERTIFIED IN CARDIOLOGY and is “specialized in treating heart disease”. In order to achieve this status, a doctor must complete an additional 3-4 years of advanced cardiac residency training as well as pass two specialist examinations. D. Ryan Keegan DVM ACVIM (Cardiology) is board certified in the specialty of cardiology and is a reviewer for the Journal of Veterinary Cardiology.

The Cardiologist Difference

In a recent study, dogs lived 74% longer with the team-oriented care of a Boarded Cardiologist and a general veterinarian compared to those without a Cardiologist, when treated for congestive heart failure from valve disease*. Dr. Keegan has the proven expertise in performing advanced testing such as echocardiograms (ultrasound of the heart) and electrocardiograms (EKG), to offer families the best management of their pets’ heart conditions.

Other consultants may offer similar “ultrasounds”, but they are usually not board certified cardiologists and may not deliver the same level of expertise. Our focus is to work together with you and your primary care veterinarian to ensure the best possible quality of life for your pets.

*J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2016:249:72-76

Heart Disease in Pets

Like people, dogs and cats commonly acquire heart disease with age. Sometimes pets are born with abnormalities, but more often they develop over time. The first warning sign is usually a heart murmur. The best way to try to slow progression of heart disease is early and accurate treatment. In the most severe forms, heart disease can lead to congestive heart failure (fluid build-up) as the heart muscle can no longer pump efficiently. In later stages, you might see some of the following signs in your pet, and could be an emergency:

  • Coughing
  • Changes in breathing / Shortness of breath
  • Changes in behavior
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Restlessness, especially at night
  • Collapse / Fainting
  • Decreased appetite

What to Expect

Dr. Keegan completes a cardiovascular physical examination and reviews any medical records. An echocardiogram and an EKG will be performed. Afterwards we patiently discuss all options with you. We understand that heart disease can be a difficult discussion that warrants care and compassion. It is a family approach.

Together with your veterinarian we will create a comprehensive treatment plan for your pet. Our goal is to encourage the best quality of life for your pet while considering your goals and expectations. You know your pet best.

We will continue to work with you and your veterinarian; offering follow-up care and case management advice, as long as you like.

Cardiology Services

  • Echocardiogram (Ultrasound of the Heart): Patients will receive a full echocardiogram by a board certified veterinary cardiologist. This is a non-invasive test to determine the exact type and severity of congenital or acquired heart disease present. Just like in Pediatric Medicine, the gold standard in veterinary medicine is when an echocardiogram is performed by the attending Board Certified Cardiologist, looking for specific changes that influence medications and prognosis. Echo uses only sound waves and is harmless. The patient is gently placed on their side and takes around 15-25 minutes. Sedation is usually not required.
  • Electrocardiography (ECG): EKG’s evaluate for abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). Fast heart rates (tachycardia), slow heart rates (bradycardia), and extra beats (VPC’s) can be a serious health problem. They may coincide with structural changes to the heart muscle and usually require intervention.
  • Holter Monitoring and Event Recording: For animals who need further evaluation of arrhythmia (Boxer cardiomyopathy, Doberman Pinchers, German Shepherds), a small, harmless beeper-like device that is fitted onto a harness and worn by your pet 24 hours in the comfort of your home.
  • Radiographs (xray): Xrays are an essential part of a comprehensive cardiac evaluation. They are used to evaluate general heart size as well as lung changes which can develop with heart failure (lung fluid), cancer, or chronic airway disease.
  • Blood pressure: BP analysis may be recommended in patients with known pre-existing conditions that can lead to hypertension (i.e., chronic kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, etc).
  • Thoracocentesis & Abdominocentesis (Removal of fluid from the chest or belly): Fluid within the chest cavity (pleural effusion) and belly (abdominal effusion) can occur secondary to a variety of conditions, often from cardiac disease (atrial fibrillation, pulmonary hypertension, cardiomyopathy). Removal of the fluid with a needle may be required to alleviate trouble breathing or discomfort. Sedation is not required.
  • Pericardiocentesis: Pericardial effusion (fluid within the heart sac) can quickly lead to sudden weakness, collapse, and even loss of life. It is often an emergency. The fluid may be caused by cancer, idiopathic (no cause seen), congestive heart failure, etc. A needle/catheter is inserted into the heart sac through the chest wall. This is generally well tolerated and usually performed without sedation.
  • Fine Needle Aspirates (FNA): Lung (chest) tumors or enlarged lymph nodes can often be sampled. A small needle is inserted into the tumor using ultrasound guidance. A pathologist interprets the results under a microscope.

If you are not sure if your pet would benefit from a Board Certified Veterinary Cardiologist, please contact us. Our trained receptionist and technician team is here to help.