Why Should I bring my pet to Willows for a Pacemaker?
Willows is one of Europe’s leading small animal referral centres. Our state-of-the-art hospital is led by internationally renowned Certified Specialists committed to providing the highest standards of veterinary care. Willows is one of the few Specialist centres in the UK to regularly perform pacemaker implantation. Due to the considerable experience of our Specialist Cardiologists we have a high success rate and the long-term outcome is usually good.
Our team of Specialist Cardiologist are supported by our multi-disciplinary team of Specialists across a number of disciplines including; Anaesthesia, Diagnostic Imaging and Emergency and Critical Care. In addition, Willows has a large dedicated team of Nurses and clinical support staff available 24 hours a day, every day of the year to provide the best possible care for your pet.
What is a Pacemaker?
A pacemaker is an electronic device that maintains the heart rate (and therefore blood circulation) by stimulating the heart to contract when the heart’s own electrical activity fails to do so.
How does a Pacemaker Work?
The pacemaker works by monitoring the heartbeat. If the heart intermittently stops the pacemaker then stimulates the heart at these times to keep it going. Pacemakers can also detect movement during exercise and increase the heart rate at these times (this is termed a rate-responsive pacemaker). Typically a pacemaker is set to have a heart rate range of 60/min to 160/min.
What can I Expect if my Pet is Fitted with a Pacemaker?
In dogs the pacemaker is inserted under the skin at the side of the neck. A pacing lead connects the pacemaker to the heart and delivers the electrical ‘spark’ that creates the heartbeat. Before recommending pacemaker implantation, our Cardiologists will check the medical history provided by your Vet as well as the results of any diagnostic tests such as bloodwork, ECG and chest x-rays. They will also perform a thorough clinical examination and cardiac ultrasound scan to check for any underlying problems.
A xray of a pacemaker implantation showing the lead coursing from the heart up the cranial vena cava to the jugular vein and then subcutaneously back to the generator.
Your pet will return home a couple of days following surgery with a large bandage around the neck. The bandage protects the operation sites from being scratched, helps to reduce any swelling, protects against infection and restricts head movement (minimising the risk of lead displacement).
Infection is a potentially lethal complication, as such your pet will receive a course of antibiotics after surgery. Once home, exercise should be restricted for 4-5 weeks to allow healing. If possible it is recommended to prevent your dog from activities that over-stretch the neck such as jumping up or playing madly. Due to the position of the pacemaker and lead, your pet should not be restrained by a collar – it is preferable to use a harness (you may wish to purchase one in advance). The sutures and bandage can be removed by your Vet two weeks after surgery.
Your dog will need to return for pacemaker programming checks, for which there will be an additional charge. These visits monitor the battery life and ensure the pacemaker settings are optimised to meet the individual needs of your pet and maximise battery life.
The first programming check is due three to four months after surgery, this is the most important check as it is the first opportunity to optimise the settings. After that, a programming check is required annually and will be organised in advance with our cardiology team. At Willows all patients will be fitted with a modern pacemakers which have a home monitoring device, allowing most of the checks to be done from the comfort of your home.
Should your dog outlive the battery life of the pacemaker, the battery can be replaced. This will involve a short operation to remove the old pacemaker and attach a new one to the existing lead. The pacemaker programming outlined above ensure that there is advanced warning of battery depletion.
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Find out more
To assist owners in understanding more about the conditions related to and treatments available for patients with heart and lung problems, we have put together a range of information sheets to talk you through the some of the more common cardiology conditions seen by our Specialists.