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ECG - Electrocardiogram

What is an ECG?

The heart produces its own electrical signals which are responsible for generating the thousands of heartbeats that happen over the course of an animal’s lifetime. These internal electrical signals can be picked up by using an ECG (electrocardiogram) machine.

How does an animal ECG work?

An ECG tracing is obtained by attaching wires to points on the animal’s body. They are usually attached to the points of the elbows and the knees on both the left and right sides. The leads need to attach directly to the pet’s skin to obtain a clear trace; however, some pets are too hairy and their fur will need to be clipped a little and sprayed with an alcohol spray for the pads to make good, clear contact. The ECG generates a tracing which measures the electrical activity in the heart. This activity has a very specific rhythm and can be assessed to see whether there are any abnormalities.

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What is an ECG used for?

Here at Medivet, we regularly use ECGs to measure our patients’ heart rates and electrical rhythm which can be abnormal in many conditions directly affecting the heart, such as murmurs in older dogs. This occurs when leaky heart valves produce abnormal sounds. However, ECGs can also be extremely useful in helping our vets assess the impact that diseases of other organs can have on the heart, as well as the effects of certain drugs.

By performing an ECG on your pet, our vets are able to make an accurate assessment of the health of your pet’s heart, thus improving their ability to diagnose and treat any conditions.

If our vet suspects your pet has heart disease, it may be necessary for your pet to have a “cardiac (heart) work up”, where the vet will perform various tests to accurately diagnose the exact problem. An ECG will normally form part of the series of diagnostic tests, often alongside an ultrasound, X-ray, blood pressure measurement and blood test.

In some cases, ECGs are also used to monitor the heart during anaesthesia in order to help reduce anaesthetic-related risks. Here it acts as an early warning system should any complications arise that might lead to heart failure.

Where can my pet have an ECG done?

Here at Medivet, we equip all of our 24-hour vet centres with ECGs. Many of our Medivet branches will also have an ECG machine on-site. These are freely available for use by all of our vets from any of our branches. Consequently, all of Medivet’s patients can benefit from this very useful diagnostic tool.