The cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels) works similarly in humans and animals and is responsible for functions that support life – from working with the lungs to pump nutrient-rich blood through the body to deliver toxins and waste to organs that clean the blood. When there’s an issue with your pet’s cardiovascular system, the body simply cannot function properly.
Interventional cardiology in dogs and cats may help treat or correct some cardiovascular problems. This refers to a sophisticated set of procedures that provide a minimally invasive approach to managing a variety of cardiovascular problems, reducing the need for more invasive surgery.
How Does Interventional Cardiology Work?
The heart is connected to the blood vessels, and entry into one blood vessel allows for direct access to other blood vessels and the heart. During interventional cardiology procedures, a puncture or small incision is made in the skin over a blood vessel, typically in the neck or leg. A puncture is then made in the underlying blood vessel, allowing for the placement of long catheters into these vessels. The catheters are used to deliver a device to a cardiovascular defect or energy to the source of an abnormal heart rhythm.
During the procedure, fluoroscopy (standard X-rays that create video images) is used to provide real-time visualization of the catheter movement within the body. This enables therapy of some cardiovascular issues while avoiding more invasive open-chest and open-heart surgery.
This less invasive approach allows patients to recover more quickly with minimal side effects, if any, from the procedure.
Which Cardiac Issues Are Addressed with Interventional Cardiology?
A variety of cardiovascular issues can be addressed with interventional cardiology, including congenital heart defects, abnormal openings or open obstructions of the cardiovascular system, and abnormalities in heart rhythm (arrhythmias).
Common interventional cardiology procedures in veterinary medicine include:
- Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) closure – Abnormal blood vessel communication is closed from within the vessel via a metallic device delivered through a catheter
- Balloon valvuloplasty – Used to open obstructions, particularly obstruction or stenosis of heart valves that may not have formed properly at birth
- Pacemaker therapy – Placement of a pacemaker under the skin to help manage very slow heart rates or excessive pauses in heart rhythm
- Radiofrequency catheter ablation – A focal burst of energy applied to abnormal heart tissue that is creating arrhythmias
Interventional cardiology procedures offered at MedVet
- Balloon valvuloplasty to relieve heart valve stenosis
- Cutting balloon dilation to relieve cardiovascular obstructions
- Diagnostic angiograms for cardiovascular defect and shunt detection
- Heartworm extraction
- Hybrid procedures joining cardiology and surgery teams to correct complex heart defects
- Intrahepatic portosystemic shunt attenuation
- Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) occlusion
- Permanent pacemaker implantation to treat slow cardiac arrhythmias
- Radiofrequency catheter ablation to treat certain rapid cardiac arrhythmias
- Stent placement to relieve cardiovascular obstructions
- Temporary transvenous cardiac pacing support during anesthesia
- Transesophageal echocardiogram guided cardiac procedures
- Vascular foreign body retrieval
- Vascular malformation occlusion
How Will I Know If My Pet Needs an Interventional Cardiac Procedure?
When your pet exhibits signs of heart disease or your family veterinarian detects an abnormality of the heart, they may refer you to a specialist that has extensive training in the diagnosis and care of heart and lung problems in animals.
At MedVet, we work closely with your family veterinarian as part of your pet’s care team. Tests that may be used to identify heart issues include:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
- Chest X-rays (radiographs)
- Echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart)
These test results provide information about your pet’s health, allowing us to determine if an interventional cardiology procedure is appropriate. All options for therapy will be discussed with you in detail.
How Should I Prepare for My Pet’s Procedure?
Food should be withheld by midnight the night before a planned procedure. Verify with the cardiologist if your pet’s medications should be given as usual the morning of the procedure. Generally, a morning drop-off time is arranged so that your pet can be evaluated by the cardiology and anesthesia teams prior to the procedure. In some cases, pets are admitted to the hospital the day before the procedure.
Will My Pet Feel Pain?
Interventional cardiology procedures are minimally invasive, with only one or two small skin incisions needed. This approach is quite different from traditional surgery, minimizing pain after the procedure.
Our anesthesiology team gives anesthesia (a controlled state of unconscious) to your pet for the procedure so they will not feel any pain and will develop a pain management plan for them post-operatively.
How Long Will My Pet Need to Stay in the Hospital?
Following the procedure, your pet will be hospitalized overnight for monitoring and will receive a post-operative cardiac evaluation to assess any effects from the procedure. Your pet will likely be able to return home the next day.
What Should I Expect Following the Procedure?
Your pet should feel normal within a day or two following the procedure. Exercise will typically be restricted for two to four weeks (pacemaker therapy will require additional restriction time). Running, jumping, or playing is not allowed during this timeframe. Most dogs do best in a large kennel or a small room at home to minimize their temptation to run or jump. Trips outside should be brief and supervised with your pet on a leash.
A short course of antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent infection though no diet changes are necessary. Skin sutures may be present and require removal at a clinic within two weeks.
Is Follow-up Care Needed?
While interventional cardiology procedures are minimally invasive, they are surgery, and your pet will need time to recover. A phone check-in will be made within a few days of the procedure, followed by a cardiology visit within a few months. Continued long-term follow-up visits would typically be recommended every one to two years thereafter. We partner with your family veterinarian to carefully monitor your pet following any procedure.