Veterinary professionals are known for being extremely conscientious. Following 5 years of studying to become a fully qualified veterinary surgeon, they have to complete large amounts of continued professional development. On top of these academic requirements, many veterinary professionals complete certificates, internships and residencies. These are not compulsory but allow for further development and specialism. A cardiologist is a fully qualified vet who does further training following vet school to become a specialist in heart problems.
In order to do this, they will usually have to do a residency in cardiology – especially if they want to be a Specialist rather than an Advanced Practitioner. Prior to this, many cardiologists complete a certificate or internship to build up their knowledge and experience. Residencies alone normally take 3 years to complete and are extremely competitive to get accepted onto, hence the vast amount of studying commonly completed prior to starting the residency. Residencies are very hard work and require lots of time and dedication to the chosen field of work.
Check the RCVS Register for Specialist Cardiologists.
Check the RCVS Register for Advanced Practitioners in Cardiology.
Why is a cardiologist different to my normal vet?
Heart specialists (cardiologists) see many different, complex cardiology cases per day. Some cardiologists only see cardiac cases. They often receive complicated cardiology cases that other veterinary professionals are struggling to control and provide support and guidance to other veterinary professionals needing additional help. Because they see a wide variety of cardiac cases, their knowledge regarding this topic develops more and more, and they become familiar with strange presentations of conditions.
What does a cardiologist do specifically?
A cardiologist will diagnose and monitor heart disease. If you are referred to a cardiologist, you often have longer appointments allowing for further explanations. Most cardiac diseases are lifelong and thorough monitoring at home will be needed. Your veterinary professional may discuss things for you to do at home including, monitoring respiratory rate, lethargy, coughing, and monitoring your pet’s weight. These things can all affect cardiac disease. Your veterinary professional will want to ensure that you understand your pet’s disease and how we are aiming to control the disease. It is important you are able to give your pet the medication prescribed and, therefore, thorough time may be spent demonstrating how to do this.
What additional skills do cardiologists have?
Specific drug use and multimodal therapeutic control is often needed during cardiac cases. Because cardiologists deal with life threatening cases frequently, they are familiar with different drugs and combinations that work most optimally. Some cases require unlicensed drug use. This means using drugs that are not specifically licensed to be used in that species for the problem presented. Given the cardiologists additional knowledge and research they’ve undertaken, they are much more equipped to accurately go “Off license”.
Usually they’re the best at heart scanning (echocardiography) and interpreting radiographs
Heart scans allow veterinary professionals to monitor for any changes in the heart’s shape, size and function.
Radiographs can also be useful in monitoring the overall size enlargement, as it can be easy to see which side of the heart is larger or smaller. Monitoring masses around the cardiac silhouette or looking for metastatic lung tumours is also often easier to see via radiograph.
Ultrasound scanning is more commonly performed during monitoring of disease. Ultrasound scanning allows veterinary professionals to view the heart moving whilst it works, so we get to see a dynamic view. Veterinary professionals will be able to see how well different areas of the heart contract, measuring the lumen and muscle thickness of each chamber. Because measuring is performed, it is easy to monitor for any changes. We can also perform a Doppler scan, which uses different colours to signify movement of blood in different directions. Looking for any blood moving in the wrong direction is important when looking for the cause of murmurs.
Any qualified veterinary surgeon is able to perform these scans. However a cardiologist will have had much more advanced training in performing and, crucially, interpreting them. Because they are likely to do these more often, their skillset in performing and interpreting the results of these scans is likely to be much better. Cardiologists often have very high quality imaging techniques allowing them to get optimum images and produce cardiac reports from the images.
Cardiologists may also be involved with cardiac surgery
These invasive heart operations would not be performed during a normal general practice. These procedures are high risk and therefore should only be completed with an experienced and expert team.
A cardiologist is someone you will see if your pet gets referred for a heart problem. Your local veterinary practice will be able to refer your pet to see a cardiologist should they require one.