If you have a history of heart problems, then you are probably all too familiar with the concept of monitoring and assessing cardiac activity in humans. You go to the doctor with a complaint, and they send you home with an ECG monitor that you have to wear for 24 hours. 

However, did you know that many veterinary clinics and surgeries are now using 24 hour ECG monitors to track cardiac activity in animals? In fact, this field has been gaining significant traction over the past few years and technological advances are enabling veterinarians to gain increasing insight into the health, wellbeing, and physical condition of our beloved furry friends.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what a 24 hour ECG monitor is exactly, what it can be used for, how it works, and how it can help you monitor the health of your pet. 

 

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What Is a 24 Hour ECG Monitor?

A 24 hour ECG monitor, also known as a Holter monitor and ambulatory ECG monitoring, is a portable medical device that monitors the heart and checks for abnormalities. It is one of the simplest and fastest tests used to evaluate the heart over a prolonged period of time, usually 24 hours.

A patient wears the battery-powered medical device for anywhere between 12 and 48 hours as they go about their normal daily routine. During this time, electrodes and electrical leads record the heart rate and rhythm and detect if the patient experiences chest pains or arrhythmias or exhibits symptoms of an irregular heartbeat. Devices are usually prescribed when a doctor needs to know more information about how a patient’s heart is functioning than they are able to obtain from a routine electrocardiogram (EKG).

 

What Is a 24 Hour ECG Monitor Used For?

There are a number of issues that can affect the heart, and many occur sporadically. This means that you might not necessarily be at the doctor’s office when a problem occurs. To address this, doctor’s sometimes ask patients to wear a 24 hour ECG monitor so that they can monitor heart beats and rhythms over a prolonged period of time, making it far more likely that any potential issues are detected. This provides an analysis taken from a much more organic setting, as your heart is being monitored as you go about your usual daily activities, rather than relying on a snapshot analysis taken in a busy and stressful environment such as a doctor’s surgery. 

The device works in much the same way as a standard ECG. It is a small, wireless device (around the size of a small mobile phone) that attaches to the chest through thin electrical cords with electrodes. It then continuously records the heart’s electrical activity, which can later be analysed by a doctor. 

A doctor may ask a patient to use a 24 hour ECG monitor if they are experiencing symptoms such as:

  • A fast or slow heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Feeling out of breath
  • Chest pain
  • A fluttering sensation in the heart
  • An uneven heartbeat
  • The feeling of skipping heartbeats
  • Dizziness while using a pacemaker

A 24 hour ECG monitor can also be used on patients with ongoing heart problems to see, for example, how they are adjusting to new medication or if treatment needs to be re-evaluated. 

 

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Can You Use a 24 Hour ECG Monitor for Your Pet?

Much in the same way it is used on humans, a 24 hour ECG monitor can also be used on animals to establish if there are any abnormalities in the heart rate and rhythm. The device is attached to an animal in a veterinary clinic, then they are sent home to carry on with their day as usual. Monitoring is then done from the comfort of the animal’s own home. 

Animals are expected to eat, drink, sleep, and exercise as normal so that the heart can be monitored under regular conditions. The pet owner, in turn, keeps a log of when the animal is performing each activity.That results can be correlated with heart rates and rhythms. The veterinarian can then analyse all collected data and diagnose the health condition needing attention.

There are a number of benefits to using a 24 hour ECG monitor for your pet. Portable ECG devices can successfully detect, for example, intermittent arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythms) that may result in medical conditions in animals, such as fainting, episodic weakness, or exercise intolerance. 

A 24 hour ECG monitor can also be used to detect the presence of asymptomatic heart disease in certain breeds of dog, such as Dobermans and Boxers, and to assess the efficacy of anti-arrhythmic treatment. Other applications include the identification of occasional seizures, episodes of ventricular tachycardia, or sinus arrest in cats and dogs.

 

How Does It Work?

There is a wide variety of devices available on the market. Some are more complex (and more expensive) than others. However, all are based on the same basic premise: some form of recording device with leads that are attached to an animal by electrodes.

Generally speaking, a veterinary 24 hour ECG monitor usually works as follows:

  • The device is attached to the animal at a veterinary clinic. Most 24 hour ECG monitors have an adhesive backing to stick to the skin (so the area needs to be shaved). Bandages are then applied to secure the device. Others come with a vest or harness design, so they are easier to attach and less likely to fall off.
  • The animal goes home and continues with their regular activities.
  • ECG data is recorded either onto a small tape or in a microcomputer so that it can be decoded and analysed once the monitoring period has ended. 
  • Information is timed, so the pet owner must keep a detailed log of all activities (when the animal rests, sleeps, exercises, eats, etc.)
  • The 24 hour ECG monitor is returned to the veterinary clinic after the established period has passed (usually 24 hours) and data is decoded and analysed. 
  • If abnormalities are detected, a diagnosis is made and a treatment plan is put into place. 

A 24 hour ECG monitor is not without its challenges. For example, the device can fall off during exercise; the adhesive strip can sometimes cause skin irritation; the device itself can sometimes cause an animal to become restless and irritated, resulting in false readings; and the device cannot get wet. However, generally speaking, the monitor can be a highly useful device for obtaining an accurate analysis of the cardiac health of an animal in a relaxed and organic setting, enabling a higher chance of successful diagnosis.

 

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