In this post, our Boulder and Westminster vets discuss ECGs for dogs and cats, when your vet will order one, and how to understand your pet's results.

What is an ECG?

An ECG, also called an EKG, is an acronym for electrocardiogram. It is a test used to monitor your pet's heart. Little sensors attached to the skin monitor electrical activity to give a representation of what the heart is doing.

This is a non-invasive way of observing the heart in pets.

What does an ECG tell your veterinarian about your pet?

An ECG reveals several details about your pet's heart. For starters, it displays the rate and rhythm of the heartbeat. It also helps them understand the electrical impulses that flow through each section of the heart.

A typical ECG consists of a pattern: a small bump rising up, known as the P-wave, followed by a large spike upward, known as the QRS complex, and another small bump, known as the T-wave.

The P-wave shows the atria contracting. The QRS complex is formed when the ventricles depolarize, resulting in the large contraction of the heart known as the 'heartbeat.' The T-wave represents the heart's repolarization.

Your veterinarian will check the shape of the wave and measure the distance between its various parts. The information provided by the P-Wave and QRS complex interval is frequently a source of concern. These indicate how fast the heart takes in blood and pumps it.

The next major source of information is the QRS complex's peaks and their distance apart. A regular heartbeat occurs when the distance between the spikes remains constant. If they differ, your pet has an irregular heartbeat.

What are normal cat and dog ECGs?

The normal rhythm for a canine ECG should be 60 to 170 beats per minute. The normal rhythm of cats should be 140 to 220 beats per minute.

Are ECGs safe?

Yes, ECG tests are safe. ECG is a non-invasive diagnostic test that passively monitors the heart.

When would a vet use an ECG?

Some examples of when a vet may order an ECG are:

Abnormal Cardiovascular Rhythm

Cardiac murmurs, gallop sounds, and arrhythmias are all obvious abnormalities that may require an ECG. These are frequently indicative of diastolic dysfunction, and an ECG is always recommended when this occurs in dogs and cats.

ECGs can be caused by either intracardiac or extracardiac disease, and they help rule out primary cardiomyopathy and/or infiltrative cardiac disease. The ECG can also help determine the best anti-arrhythmic therapy for each individual patient.

Breed Screening

Many dog and cat breeds are genetically predisposed to heart disease. Dog breeds include the Doberman Pinscher, Great Dane, Boxer, and Cocker Spaniel, to name a few. The cat breeds include the Maine Coon, the Persian, the Ragdoll, and some American Shorthairs.

Thoracic Radiographic Changes

Cardiomegaly on radiographs can be caused by cardiac enlargement, pericardial fat accumulation, or patient variability. An ECG is the most specific tool for determining the size of each cardiac chamber and can help determine the cause of radiographic cardiomegaly.

Feline Echocardiography

Cats can be particularly difficult cardiology patients because they may have severe cardiomyopathy or other heart diseases despite having no clinical symptoms. An ECG is frequently the only diagnostic test that is both specific and sensitive to cats.

Purebred cats are more likely to develop heart disease, so an ECG evaluation is frequently recommended to confirm the presence of heart disease and determine the patient's therapeutic needs.

How much is an ECG for a dog or cat?

It's always best to contact your vet directly if you're curious about the cost. They should be able to provide you with an accurate estimate.

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.

Our Boulder and Westminster emergency hospital offers ECGs for pets. Contact us today if your pet is having an emergency or if your primary care veterinarian has suggested that your dog or cat could benefit from an ECG.