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Diagnostic Testing

Veterinary Cardiology Specialists offers a variety of diagnostic tests to confirm and characterize your pet’s heart condition so that an appropriate treatment plan and prognosis can be obtained.  Diagnostic tests include:

Patient history and cardiac physical examination
A thorough patient history and physical examination is the foundation for a comprehensive cardiac evaluation. The clinical signs your pet has been experiencing along with the physical examination findings can provide key information regarding

  • the severity of your pet’s condition
  • the urgency of care that should be provided
  • additional diagnostic tests that should be performed
  • response to therapy, if therapy has already been initiated

6 lead electrocardiography (ECGs)
An electrocardiogram (ECG) provides information about your pet’s heart rate and rhythm. The 6 lead ECG performed by VCS allows Dr. Olson to evaluate the heart conduction system from multiple angles and can be instrumental in helping diagnose your pet’s heart condition. Did you know that dogs can receive pacemakers if needed?

Holter monitoring (24 hour ECG)
A Holter monitor is performed to assess your pet’s heart rate and rhythm over a 24 hour period. Holter monitoring can be essential in characterizing many abnormal heart rate and rhythm abnormalities (arrhythmias) and to assess response to therapy. The Holter monitor unit is outfitted in the hospital and then worn by the patient for a 24 hour period in their home. Did you know that the heart must pause for at least 6 seconds before you will pass out?

 Echocardiography (ultrasound of the heart)

  • What is an echocardiogram? An echocardiogram, sometimes referred to as an “echo”, is an ultrasound of the heart. An echo allows the clinician to “look inside” the chest to visualize the heart. The size of the heart chambers, the thickness of the heart walls, the heart valves and the heart blood flow patterns can be assessed.
  • How is an echo performed? The procedure is performed with the patient lying first on its right side and then its left on a special table. A small region of fur is clipped over both sides of the chest to allow for good visualization with the ultrasound transducer.
  • Does an echo hurt my pet? No. In fact, the procedure is performed in a quiet, darkened room. Often patients are so relaxed they fall asleep during the procedure.
  • Why do an echocardiogram? An echo can provide information about your pet’s heart size, how well it is contracting and blood flow patterns. This information can provide a definitive diagnosis and can be invaluable in diagnosing and monitoring your pet’s heart condition.

Thoracic radiographic interpretation (x-ray)
Thoracic radiographs (x-rays) provide a black and white outline of the structures in your pet’s chest. They are used to assess overall heart size and shape as well as lung changes and are an important part of a comprehensive cardiac evaluation. They are essential in determining if your pet has developed left sided heart failure (fluid in the lungs – pulmonary edema). Radiographs also allow for evaluation of other possible abnormalities in the chest including fluid around the lungs (pleural effusion) and cancer.

Laboratory test analysis (blood and urine tests)
Blood and urine tests can be used to diagnose certain heart conditions and are essential in monitoring the body’s response to certain medications. Tests that may be recommended as a part of your pet’s heart healthcare include

  • complete blood count
  • full blood chemistry profile

Renal blood panel
Renal blood panels help evaluate kidney function and electrolyte values such as sodium and potassium. They are performed frequently to ensure your pet is tolerating its medications well.

A urinalysis can assess for diseases of the kidney and is an important baseline test prior to initiating heart medications such as furosemide (lasix) and ACE inhibitors (i.e. enalapril and benazapril).

Heartworm testing
Blood tests are available to determine if your pet has heartworm disease.  Visit the American Heartworm Society website for more information at

Troponin I levels
Troponin I is a cardiac biomarker that can be detected in the blood. Elevated troponin I levels indicate damage to the heart muscle cells and can be an important diagnostic aid.  A small blood sample needs to be drawn from your pet and then submitted to an outside laboratory.

NTproBNP is a cardiac biomarker that is produced in the heart. NTproBNP levels can be used to help diagnose heart disease, monitor progression of disease as well as assess response to therapy.

Drug blood levels (i.e. digoxin, theophylline)
Some drugs have a narrow therapeutic range meaning that they will not work if the blood levels are not high enough and they will cause side effects if the blood levels are too high. Digoxin and theophylline are drugs that fall in this category. Therefore, it is common to frequently check your pet’s drug blood levels if receiving these medications.

Blood pressure: Heart disease does not cause high blood pressure, although high blood pressure can result in, or worsen heart disease. Therefore, if high blood pressure is suspected, blood pressure analysis will be recommended as a part of your pet’s cardiac evaluation.