Echocardiography

What is echocardiography?

Echocardiography is a fancy term for a heart ultrasound. Ultrasound imaging is the process of using sound waves to create pictures of internal organs. An ultrasound machine sends waves through a probe that is placed on the body. These waves then bounce off of the organs and echo back to the machine. A computer then takes these waves, which have changed frequency, and creates an image of the organ. Every organ, whether it be the liver or heart, has a different density. Because of this, the waves echoed back to the machine are specific to that organ so the image can be created. The image created is a real time image. When an echocardiogram is done the heart and it’s vessels are the only organs evaluated.

Is echocardiography safe? Painful?

Echocardiography is a noninvasive procedure that is very safe. It does not use radiation like an x ray. In addition, it is not a painful procedure. At times, there is mild discomfort for the patient when pressure has to be applied with the probe. But it is short lived and well tolerated by most patients.

When does a dog or cat need an echocardiogram?

Veterinarians alert clients when a pet needs an echocardiogram. Echocardiograms are used to diagnose heart disease and also grade the severity after baseline information is gathered. The first thing that needs to be done to see if a pet has heart disease is a physical exam. Open mouth breathing, heart murmurs and pulse abnormalities are symptoms of heart disease in a dog or cat that can often be detected during an exam. If a veterinarian is suspicious of heart problems, then x-rays are done. X- rays can help in the diagnosis of heart disease. Sometimes the x-ray gives enough information to start a pet on medications. The x-rays do not give a specific reason or let us know about the severity, however. There are cases where it can be difficult to tell on xray if the heart is not functioning normally. In these cases, and any other case where further information is needed, other diagnostic tests are requested. Echocardiography, in addition to an ECG and labwork, are the next steps to getting a definitive diagnosis and treatment plan. 

What does the veterinarian look for on an echocardiogram?

Every angle of the heart is evaluated during an echocardiogram. The size of the ventricles and atria are checked. The thickness of the muscle walls separating the chambers are measured. The valves are checked for complete closure and leakiness. Turbulent blood flow can even be checked by using a special color mode on the machine that highlights blood coming and going from the vessels. The strength of the muscle contractions are measured as well. In addition to determining normal heart function, other problems can be found during the echocardiogram. These include tumors and congenital defects.

Will my dog or cat have to be sedated?

At Animal Medical Center, much effort is used so your pet does not have to be sedated. We prefer to perform echocardiograms on our pets without any sedation. Sedation can change the way the heart pumps and may skew the results. The echocardiograms are performed in a dark, quiet room as to create a peaceful environment. Cushions and pillows are used to make the dog or cat comfortable during the procedure. In addition, our technicians hold and provide comfort by talking to the animals and petting them. The pets simply have to lay on their side. Luckily, echocardiograms are quick, usually only taking 15-30 minutes. If a pet simply is too stressed for the procedure, a light sedative is often used with the owners permission. This allows the pet to consciously relax so we may obtain the images we need. It is for this reason that a Anesthesia Release Form must be filled out for all echocardiogram appointments.

Who interprets the echocardiogram images?

Animal Medical Center works with Oncura Partners, which is a veterinary diagnostic telemedicine company. Oncura employs veterinary ultrasonographers and veterinary radiologists who read our images and offer diagnosis. Sometimes recommendations on further testing and/or treatment is offered. Echocardiograms are very detailed and difficult to evaluate. Therefor, all our echocardiograms and sent for consultation by a specialist. This is a tremendous help and of great benefit as there are no specialists in Lubbock, Texas. Telemedicine has afforded us the ability of furthering the care for your dog or cat by getting opinions from board certified radiologists and cardiologists. The consultation report generally takes 2-3 days to complete in non emergency cases.

Do all the veterinarians at Animal Medical Center perform ultrasounds?

No. Performing an echocardiogram requires special training. It is a highly specialized test. In fact, Animal Medical Center is one of the few veterinary hospitals in Lubbock to offer this test. Dr. Kara Rowntree at Animal Medical Center performs all echocardiograms. Even if you are not a client of Animal Medical Center, we can help! Many veterinary hospitals in Lubbock refer to Animal Medical Center to have echocardiograms performed. After the consultation report is completed, all medical information is sent back to the referring veterinarian for evaluation.

How do I make an appointment for my dog or cat to have an echocardiogram?

Because Dr. Rowntree only performs the echocardiograms, appointments have to be made. Often times, we ask your pet to be dropped off at a certain time. Dr. Rowntree then sets time aside that day to do the echocardiogram. The only preparation the pet needs is to have a small amount of hair shaved in the armpit area which will be done at the hospital the day of the appointment. We try our best to limit the time the dog or cat has to stay at the hospital. Usually, a stay of 2-4 hours is expected.

To make your appointment, simply scroll down a bit further and click on the button that allows you to make an appointment online. Or call us at 806-794-4118.

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