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 pet need an echocardiogram?

Veterinarians alert clients when a dog or cat 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 your pet has heart disease is a physical exam.  Coughing, heart murmurs and pulse abnormalities can often be detected during an exam.  If a veterinarian is suspicious of heart problems, then xrays are done. X- rays can help in the diagnose of heart disease.  If the heart is enlarged and there is fluid build up in the lungs, then heart disease is likely.  Sometimes the xray gives enough information to start a pet on medications.  The xrays 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. 

ultrasound room

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, heartworms, and congenital defects.  

Will my pet 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 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.

Do all the veterinarians at Animal Medical Center perform ultrasounds?

No.  Performing an echocardiogram requires special training.  It is a highly specialized test.  When your pet needs this test, we schedule a special appointment at our office our local veterinary internist,  Dr. Kirk Sears of West Texas Veterinary Specialty.  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 pet to have an echocardiogram?

Please call us for an appointment to perform an echocardiogram.   Often times, we ask your dog to be dropped off at a certain time.  We try our best to limit the time the dog has to stay at the hospital. Usually, a stay of 2-4 hours is expected.Call 806-794-4118 if you have any questions.