Heart disease can affect horses of all ages and breeds and can be congenital (present at birth) or acquired (developed later in life).
The most frequently diagnosed cardiac abnormalities in equine medicine include congenital defects, degenerative or infectious valvular diseases, pathologies of the muscle or external envelope of the heart (pericardium), congestive heart failure, and arrhythmias.
The experts at the EMC can make an accurate diagnosis which is essential for your horse’s treatment and prognosis.
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- Dr. Anne Desrochers is a cardiology specialist. Before coming to the Equine Medical Center in 2004, she completed a two-year fellowship in Cardiology and Ultrasound. She has extensive experience in diagnosing complex cardiovascular disease and has taught others in the field.
- We utilize a state-of-the-art ultrasound machine with a specialty echocardiogram package which enables us to assess the heart anatomy, size, and function as well as intra-cardiac blood flow.
Cardiac problems can manifest clinically in different ways, including:
- poor performance
- exercise intolerance
- heart murmur and irregular rhythm
- distended veins
- peripheral swelling
- poor growth
A cardiac evaluation is normally performed on an outpatient basis and can last from 1-3 hours.
- A complete cardiac evaluation includes a thorough physical examination and cardiac auscultation to determine the heart rate and cardiac rhythm and to detect the presence of murmurs.
- A resting electrocardiogram (ECG) will also be recorded to assess the electrical activity of the heart and to detect the presence of irregular rhythm.
- In addition, a complete cardiac ultrasound evaluation (echocardiogram) will be performed to examine the valves, muscle, and heart function.
- Continuous electrocardiographic recordings, for a period up to 24 hours, can also be used for the detection of intermittent arrhythmias. This procedure would require an overnight stay in the hospital.
Exercise tests for cardiovascular function
Horses are often referred to our hospital for poor performance. Although musculoskeletal and respiratory system diseases are more common causes of reduced athletic ability, certain heart conditions can also lead to the development of exercise intolerance. In some cases, an exercise test is crucial for the detection of exercise-induced cardiovascular dysfunction.
- Electrocardiography using a radiotelemetry unit can be performed during a high-speed treadmill examination or while the horse is being ridden to determine the heart rate and rhythm during exercise.
- In addition, a functional assessment of the heart can be performed in the immediate post-exercise period with echocardiography.
- Your Horse’s Health: Diagnosing Equine Cardiovascular Disease by Dr. Anne Desrochers
- Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Connection in a Foal by Dr. Anne Desrochers
Scholarly research by EMC faculty members
Faculty members at the Equine Medical Center have conducted original research and published journal articles that have helped advance the field of equine cardiology. Below is a selection of their publications.
- Johns I, Desrochers A, Sweeney R, Wotman KL. Presumed Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia in two foals with Rhodococcus equi infection. J Vet Emerg Crit Car 2011 Jun; 21(3) :273-78.
- Seco Diaz O, Desrochers AM, Hoffmann V, Reef VB. Total anomalous pulmonary venous connection in a foal. Vet Radiol Ultrasound 2005 Jan-Feb;46(1):83-5.
Appointments to evaluate cardiac function
Appointments for cardiology evaluations are made on an outpatient basis. Emergency receiving is also available for patients with acute and severe cardiac conditions requiring immediate attention.
- Cardiac examinations may be scheduled by calling (703) 771-6800 or through a referral by your family veterinarian.
- View the Client Care Packet (PDF) to learn more about the facilities, services, staffing, and policies at the EMC.
The following faculty have extensive experience in diagnosing and treating cardiac problems in horses.