The same techniques that allow doctors to see babies as they develop inside the womb have applications in veterinary medicine. An echocardiogram is basically an ultrasound of the heart muscle. Veterinarians use an echocardiogram to detect abnormalities that represent impending or current health issues in dogs and other animals.
There are three types of echocardiography: M-mode, two-dimensional and Doppler. Each relies on different equipment and have specialized utility. M-mode echocardiograms are the oldest of the three types, still used to detect defects in valve movement, according an article on Veterinary Cardiology Online by Dr. Michael R. O'Gradys and Dr. M. Lynne O'Sullivan. The two-dimensional technique provides an overview of the entire heart, which makes it ideal for comparing the muscle's different chambers and tissue thickness. Doppler echocardiography is the most recently developed technique. It allows the practitioner to evaluate the pattern of blood flow through your dog's heart.
Your vet may call for an echocardiogram to confirm a diagnosis or look for clues to help him figure out what's wrong with your pet. It's not a reliable way to screen for congenital health problems, so your vet will call for one only if he thinks your pet is suffering from a heart problem, the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals advises. Ultrasounds can locate some heart defects as well as harmful thickening of the heart muscle, a symptom of cardiovascular disease an degeneration. Your vet may recommend an echocardiogram before anesthetizing your dog for surgery to make sure he's healthy enough to tolerate heavy sedation.
The primary benefit of echocardiography is its safety. It's a noninvasive procedure, so your dog won't need incisions or surgery. Unlike X-rays, ultrasounds don't bombard your pet's body with potentially harmful radiation. The procedure has few preparation requirements, so you don't need to do anything special to get ready. The practitioner may need to shave a patch of your dog's fur to make sure the reading is accurate, but that's about it.
Echocardiograms are supplemental diagnostic tools. They don't reveal everything. Some abnormalities are just too small to spot even with the most recent ultrasound technology. This means your vet can't rely on them to give your dog a definitively clean bill of health. The procedure requires a specialist equipped with expensive equipment, which means you may end up paying hundreds of dollars for the ultrasound.
While some veterinarians have all the tools needed for echocardiograms onsite, many smaller clinics lack the resources to staff an ultrasound specialist and maintain the equipment. You may have to make an appointment with a distant animal hospital or wait until a traveling specialist visits your local vet, according to Bella Online. Ask your vet to recommend a local specialist if he doesn't provide echocardiography services at his office.
- Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images