What is an echocardiogram?

An echocardiogram (also called an echo) is type ultrasound that is used to evaluate the heart.  A specialized transducer sends out sound waves that reflect off of body tissues and then return to the transducer.  The ultrasound machine then transforms the returned sound waves into a moving image of the heart.  The most common type of echocardiogram is called transthoracic echo, where the transducer is placed against the chest wall.  To get accurate images, the patient’s fur may have to be clipped and ultrasound gel is placed on the skin.

An echocardiogram allows for accurate measurement of heart size (down to 1/10 of a millimeter!), assessment of blood flow patterns in the heart and evaluation of cardiac contractility and relaxation.  It can also look for tumors on or near the heart.

The most common reason that an echocardiogram will be recommended is if abnormal heart sounds such as a heart murmur, gallop heart sound, click or abnormal heart rhythm is heard.  Echocardiography may also be recommended if a pet develops symptoms that might be caused by heart disease such as rapid or labored breathing, coughing or fainting episodes or if an enlarged heart is noted on a chest x-ray.

In most patients an echocardiogram can be performed without the need for anesthesia, however if a patient is very nervous or aggressive it may be necessary to give a sedative to reduce stress during the exam.