Listening to your pet’s heart and lungs is a vital part of the physical exam.  When we listen to your pet’s chest, we are listening to the type of sounds the heartbeat produces as well as the rhythm of the heart beating.

While some pets with heart disease have symptoms, including cough, difficulty breathing, exercise intolerance or fainting, other pets may not have symptoms but may have a heart murmur or irregular heart rhythm detected by your veterinarian.  When we detect a heart murmur, we are hearing turbulent blood flowing through the heart which typically makes a whooshing sound. Normal blood flow through the heart moves smoothly in one direction. A heart murmur is the abnormal sound heard through a stethoscope because blood is swirling or flowing in different directions.

There are many causes for heart murmurs and the best tool to determine the cause for a heart murmur and whether heart disease is present or not is to perform an ultrasound exam of the heart called an echocardiogram.  An echocardiogram is a non-invasive heart study that looks at the heart valves, measures heart muscle thickness, records the strength of the heart as it pumps, and follows the path that blood flows through the heart. 

In addition, echocardiograms are sometimes performed as routine screenings for breeds at risk for heart disease or for pre-breeding purposes.  If you are concerned that your pet may have heart disease, please discuss this with our veterinarians to determine if your pet should have an echocardiogram.

Although some heart diseases can be treated with surgery, most patients with heart disease are treated with medications that help the heart work more effectively as a pump and stabilize the heart rhythm.   Supplements or changes in diet may be recommended. However, without an echocardiogram, the best recommendations for specific heart diseases cannot be determined. At Roanoke Animal Hospital, we have the capability to perform an echocardiogram to help screen breeds at risk for heart disease and identify the cause for heart murmurs and heart disease.  Contact us today to see if your pet could benefit from an echocardiogram.

Echocardiogram FAQ

What is echocardiography?

Echocardiography is the art of using ultrasound to view the structure and function of the heart in real-time. Ultrasound is a highly informative, non-invasive and safe diagnostic test in both human and veterinary medicine. This technique uses high-frequency sound waves emitted from a hand-held probe to produce an ultrasound beam. This ultrasound beam is reflected from the tissues in the chest and heart and returns to the ultrasound probe to construct an image of the heart in motion. Echocardiography is used to show the structure of the heart walls, chambers and valves, blood flow direction and velocity (Doppler echocardiography, including color, pulsed and continuous wave) and heart wall motion velocity (Tissue Doppler echocardiography).

How can I tell if my pet has heart disease?

Some pets with heart disease have symptoms, including cough, difficulty breathing, exercise intolerance or fainting. Other pets may not have symptoms but may have a heart murmur or irregular heart rhythm detected by your veterinarian. Routine screening for breeds at risk for heart disease or for pre-breeding purposes is also sometimes performed.  If you are concerned that your pet may have heart disease, please discuss this with one of our veterinarians to determine if your pet should have an echocardiogram.

Will my pet be sedated or anesthetized for the echocardiogram?

The majority of animals do not need to be sedated or anesthetized for an echocardiogram. Dogs and cats getting an echocardiogram lie on a table with a cutout that allows the ultrasound probe to contact their chest wall. Veterinary technicians and assistants gently restrain pets for about 30 minutes during the examination. If sedation is necessary, we will discuss this with you.

Will my pet be shaved for the echocardiogram?

Occasionally, animals do not need to be shaved for an echocardiogram. A small amount of alcohol is used to separate the hair on the chest wall and ultrasound gel is used to provide contact with the ultrasound probe. However, most dogs or cats may need to have a small section of hair shaved to provide optimal imaging of their heart, especially if their coat is very thick.

Is an echocardiogram uncomfortable?

No. Echocardiography is a painless procedure.  The generation of an ultrasound image requires that the ultrasound probe gently contact the body wall, however, there is no sensation associated with the actual ultrasound. Your pet will lie on a table for the echocardiogram to provide additional comfort.

Do I need to withhold food and water before my pet’s echocardiogram?

No. Although, if mild sedation is required, it is best that your pet doesn’t eat a large meal before an echocardiogram.  Therefore, we recommend your pet only eat and drink a small amount prior to their appointment. It is especially important not to withhold water from animals that are receiving heart medications.

Will any other tests need to be done to help diagnose my pet’s heart disease?

Echocardiography uses ultrasound waves to construct a real-time image of the heart. It is considered the best test for the diagnosis of heart disease because it gives the veterinarian an image of the inside of the heart to determine how well the heart muscle is pumping, how well the valves are working and whether any defects are present inside the heart. Although echocardiography is the best test to evaluate the heart’s structure and function, we may also need to examine chest X-rays (to look for fluid in the lungs = congestive heart failure), an electrocardiogram (to determine if the heart’s electrical rhythm is normal), blood pressure or bloodwork.  If any other tests need to be done to help diagnose your pet’s heart condition, we will discuss this recommendation with you prior to performing these tests.