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Holter Monitor for Dogs & Why Yours May Need One

by | Sep 9, 2020

Holter monitors have been a longstanding tool in the medical field used in both humans and canines to monitor cardiac rhythms continuously. One might have to wear a Holter monitor to diagnose intermittent cardiac arrhythmias, a specific heart disease, or understand irregularities. But it’s nothing to worry about; Holter monitors use an electrocardiogram (ECG) to track the electrical activity within the heart of the individual. Dogs often return home and participate in regular daily activities, which get tracked in a log by their owner. Once complete, their veterinarian can analyze the information recorded by the ECG and diagnose the health condition needing attention.

Why Might My Veterinarian Recommend a Holter Monitor?

Holter monitors can be beneficial in monitoring, tracking, and diagnosing a variety of heart-related medical conditions in dogs. Commonly these are used if your dog has a history of fainting (syncope) or atypical seizures to analyze their heart rhythms and ECG throughout their daily activities. Additionally, Holter Monitors can be beneficial if an arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat is detected upon your pet’s wellness exam to determine the severity of these abnormalities. Holter monitors can be used for diagnosing specific forms of heart disease in breeds with a genetic predisposition. A final key use for Holter monitors is monitoring your dog as they adjust to a new cardiac medication. 

How do Holter Monitors Work?

Canine Holter monitors are typically worn for 24 hours but can be used for longer if medically necessary to gather further diagnostic information. You will take your dog to your veterinarian or specialty clinic to have the Holter monitor put on. This device includes a box unit and wires to three electrodes. These electrodes do need to be in direct contact with the skin, so you can expect your dog to have three small shaved patches. The electrodes are taped, then the entire device is wrapped to your dog. A vest is placed over the monitoring system to protect it from becoming dislodged or damaged if your dog scratches at the device.

What Do I Need to Do With My Dog’s Holter Monitor? 

Your veterinarian will share specific instructions and information on using the Holter monitor. However, owners can expect to keep a log of their dog’s activity and corresponding times. This includes significant events such as a fainting episode, as well as when the dog is resting, going for a walk, or playing. At any time an event is observed, and an entry log is made, the owner should simultaneously press a “save event” type button on the Holter monitor device – your veterinarian will instruct you on where to find this button.

For the most part, your dog can continue going about their daily routine; this is especially important if their heart problems correspond to a component of their regular activities. However, the device does need to be kept dry, so your dog cannot go swimming or have a bath. Additionally, precautions need to be taken if your dog does have to go outside in the rain or snow. 

The ECG leads are wrapped up inside your dog’s vest but can come loose and break if your dog continues to scratch at them or with vigorous play. If you see any wires or cords sticking out of the vest, contact your veterinarian for a follow-up plan, and monitor your dog to ensure they do not damage the ECG leads. 

My Dog’s Holter Monitor Has Been Removed, Now What? 

After 24 hours, you will take your dog back to the veterinary clinic to have the Holter monitor removed. This needs to be done carefully and is typically unwrapped to avoid accidentally cutting any of the wires, or ECG leads with scissors. 

Your dog’s activity log and data recorded on the Holter monitor will then be sent to a veterinarian cardiologist specialist (either associated with a specialty clinic, veterinary teaching hospital, or through the Holter monitor company). The cardiologist will look for any abnormalities and patterns to these abnormalities in your pet’s ECG. The cardiologist will send a report back to your veterinarian; they will then discuss the findings and next steps with you. 

While canine Holter monitors can sound intimidating, these are non-invasive and safe for your pet. By providing a significant amount of additional data on your dog’s heart rhythms and average heart rate during activities, your veterinarian will be better able to assess your dog’s heart condition. And, therefore, be able to make a more accurate and informed diagnosis.