Why does my pet need to see a board-certified cardiologist?

A cardiologist is a specialist that focuses on the treatment of heart disease in pets. Often pets are sent to a cardiologist when a heart murmur or abnormal rhythm is heard by the family veterinarian. A heart murmur is the sound of turbulent blood flow. Normal blood flow is smooth and therefore virtually silent. The two most common cause of heart murmurs are valve abnormalities and holes inside the heart walls. A cardiac arrhythmia occurs when the heart beats too fast, too slow, or too irregularly. The cardiologist will diagnose the specific kind of cardiac abnormality present and makes recommendations for therapy, if treatment is indicated at this time.

What should I expect during a visit with a board-certified cardiologist?

The cardiologist will take a history, review results of testing done by your family veterinarian, and perform a complete physical examination of your pet. The cardiologist will then discuss which tests are the next appropriate diagnostic steps.  Common tests performed by a cardiologist include:

  • Echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart)
  • Thoracic radiographs (x-rays)
  • Electrocardiograms
  • 24-hour ambulatory electrocardiograms (Holter monitoring)
  • Blood pressure monitoring

What kind of heart diseases do cats and dogs get?

Dogs and cats get all of the same kind of heart diseases as people, with the exception of coronary artery disease, which is very rare in our companion animals.  Some of the most commonly diagnosed heart conditions in older dogs include:

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy
  • Degenerative mitral valve disease
  • Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy
  • 3rd degree heart block
  • Sick sinus syndrome
  • Pericardial effusion
  • Pulmonary hypertension

We see certain congenital cardiac malformations commonly in puppies and these include:

  • Patent ductus arteriousus
  • Subaortic stenosis
  • Pulmonic valve stenosis
  • Tricuspid valve dysplasia
  • Ventricular septal defect

The most common heart diseases of cats are hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, unclassified/restrictive cardiomyopathy, and hypertensive and hyperthyroid cardiomyopathy

What kind of treatment options can a cardiologist offer my pet?

Once a diagnosis has been established by the cardiologist, treatment options may include

  • Drug therapy of congestive heart failure, abnormally fast heart rhythms, systemic hypertension,  pulmonary hypertension
  • Minimally-invasive interventional procedures including:
    • Transvenous pacemaker implantation
    • Patent ductus arteriousus occlusion
    • Balloon valvuloplasty of stenotic valve
    • Pericardiocentesis and balloon pericardiotomy
    • Extraction of heartworms for caval syndrome

Our cardiology service is led by Dr. Satoko Nishimura, DACVIM. For more information or to schedule and appointment, please call 808-735-7735.