When to Visit a Veterinary Cardiologist

To the veterinary cardiologist, no organ is as important or revered as the ever-beating heart. My oh my how they adore those valves, those chambers, the great vessels, and the steady “lub dub” rhythm of the body’s all important pump.

During residency training, those wanting to become cardiac specialists practically live with stethoscopes in their ears. They run hundreds of electrocardiograms (EKG’s), interpret thousands of chest X-rays, perform gazillions of echocardiograms (cardiac ultrasound examinations), and become adept at implanting pacemakers, repairing cardiac birth defects, and treating patients with heart disease.

When should your pet be evaluated by a board certified veterinary cardiologist? I strongly encourage you to consider this when:

  • Your pet is suspected of having a birth defect within the heart.
  • Your family vet hears a heart murmur when ausculting your pet (listening to the chest with a stethoscope). The cardiologist will be able to determine the cause of the murmur as well as whether or not it is likely to impact your pet’s health.
  • Your pet has a heart issue that your family vet has not been able to clearly diagnose.
  • Your pet has been diagnosed with a type of heart disease with which your family veterinarian has limited experience. Far better that treatment be administered by someone who has done so hundreds if not thousands of times rather than only a few times (or never before).
  • Your pet has a heart health issue that isn’t getting any better or is getting worse in spite of therapy prescribed by your family vet.
  • You simply want to be more certain about the advice you’ve received from your family vet.
  • The breed you fancy is predisposed to heart disease. For example, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels develop degenerative changes with the heart’s mitral valve (this valve separates the left ventricle from the left atrium). Maine Coon cats are prone to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease in which the heart muscle thickens and impairs normal function. Early screening of the heart (before symptoms arise) will establish a baseline for future comparison and help predict the likely clinical course.

To find a board certified veterinary cardiologist within your community or learn more about this specialty, visit the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and look for the subspecialty of cardiology. Veterinary cardiologists are a somewhat rare breed. If you cannot find one relatively close by, consultation with a specialist in internal medicine will be your next best bet.

Have you and your pet ever visited a veterinary cardiologist? What was the reason and what was the outcome?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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5 Responses to “When to Visit a Veterinary Cardiologist”

  1. Natalie says:

    Lynn, I think we managed to skip the orthopedic specialist! LOL But we have hit all of the rest of them.

    We are fortunate to be in an area where there are multiple veterinary cardiologists. We eventually switched to Dr. Lori Siemens in the Sacramento, California, area, and I want to publicly thank Dr. Siemens for all of the wonderful work she did with our dog, Chris.

    Besides being a lovely, kind, and compassionate vet, she instantly “got” that Chris didn’t do things by the book. Instead of scoffing at the idea that he could be extremely sensitive to medications, she accepted that and approached his treatment with that in mind. I was present at each of Chris’ cardiac ultrasounds (he had a half dozen cardiac diagnoses – atrial fibrilation, premature ventricular contractions, dilated cardiomyopathy, a leaky PDA, and possibly a clot in his left atrium) and a partner in all decisions made about Chris’ treatment. She was both aggressive in trying treatments to improve Chris’ health and also cautious in applying those treatments.

    Dr. Siemens was insanely available for questions and support and always endeavored to limit the amount of stress for Chris related to visits and other procedures.

    We credit Dr. Siemens with the quality of life Chris had his last two years and she will always have a special place in our hearts.

  2. Lynn Crosby says:

    oh my! i hope this is the last of the vet specialists because we have been to every one you have detailed now! (i did not post on some of them…) but we went to a cardiologist (because of max’s age 13 or 14?) the vet heard a slight murmur and he needed eye surgery (another specialist) and he would need to be under anesthesia. i was in the room when she, our cardiologist, electrocardiograph -ed and electroradiograph-ed max’s heart. ( i am sure something was lost in the translation) but i will admit it was impressive with lots of x ray looking monitors and graphs… ) bottom line. my dogs moved to another continent, they are seniors (13 and 14, lab and spaniel) and they are thriving. and so are we because they are here with us! we would not have it any other way. thank you for all your very informative articles. (we are very fortunate that we have not had to make the choice between our own medical care, or our dogs.) but we are healthy, we have medical insurance, and we live in a country with medical coverage for everyone. so we are able to provide for our dogs.

  3. MMCTAQ says:

    Doberman person. On a first-name basis with the cardiologist. Base-line visit with Dog #1 was not all that great… diagnosed with cardiomyopathy by age five, gone just before he reached eight… lifespan probably extended by early intervention and treatment. Base-line visit with Dog #2 was outstanding… less monitoring due to magical thinking and stupidity on my part… staggered and went down just before age nine. Lesson learned…

    For breeds prone to cardiac disease, routine check-ups and evaluation even for apparently healthy animals!

  4. Melissa says:

    My cat saw a cardiologist to determine the nature of his heart murmur. He had the murmur when I adopted him at 10 years old and, according to the previous owner, had it for most of his life. He now has chronic renal failure, the primary symptom being constipation. The cardiologist was able to determine that the murmur wasn’t due to any problem with the heart itself and he should be able to live a normal life. This news made his regular vet more comfortable with increasing his medication for the constipation without worrying about side effects. The consult was $450 and was worth every penny to make my guy more comfortable and give me peace of mind. (Bonus – we made the cardiologist’s day. He said he so rarely gets to give good news. He was visibly happy that my cat was okay.)

  5. Amy says:

    My first dog fainted on a walk at age 13. She had slowed down so gradually I had no idea she was sick. After going to our regular vet she went to a cardiologist who was an absolute saint. He kept her comfortable for over a year before the disease eventually took over.

    My current geriatric sweetie has a heartbeat abnormality that my current vet was able to diagnose by running an EKG in his office then having the results interpreted by a cardiologist elsewhere. This was great for me, since the closest specialist is over an hour away from my current home. My vet was able to put her under for a much-needed dental with an expert’s advice on anesthesia for her.