Diagnosing Cardiac Arrhythmias in Horses on the Farm

Vets can use a smartphone-based heart monitor to identify arrhythmias that are difficult to diagnose in the field.
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Diagnosing Cardiac Arrhythmias in Horses on the Farm
Most cardiac arrhythmias are impossible to identify definitively with a stethoscope alone, especially in the resting horse, and owners rarely know if their horses are affected. | Photo: Thinkstock
Cardiac arrhythmias are tricky. While some of these heart rhythm irregularities are perfectly normal, in more severe cases they can indicate heart disease and/or cause horses to collapse. But what makes them especially complex is detecting them in the first place. Most of these heart rhythm irregularities are impossible to identify definitively with a stethoscope alone, especially in the resting horse, and owners rarely know if their horses are affected. Veterinarians can diagnose arrhythmias with an electrocardiograph (ECG) machine, but it’s impractical to carry these cumbersome instruments in their trucks. So what’s a vet to do on a farm call?

Bill Gilsenan, VMD, Dipl. ACVIM (LAIM), a practitioner at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, in Lexington, Kentucky, offered up an option at the 2017 American Association of Equine Practitioners convention, held Nov. 17-21 in San Antonio, Texas. He described a smartphone-based heart monitor veterinarians can use in the field.

The AliveCor Veterinary Heart Monitor is a handheld wireless portable ECG device that veterinarians can use to evaluate cardiac rhythm. Gilsenan described it as essentially an iPhone case with electrodes on it that transmits an ECG-compatible signal to a phone.

In 2013 Kraus et al. performed a study to validate the monitor in 46 dogs, 23 cats, and 18 horses. All horses’ heart rates were accurate and identical to those measured on a traditional ECG machine

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Alexandra Beckstett, a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as assistant editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse. She was the managing editor of The Horse for nearly 14 years and is now editorial director of EquiManagement and My New Horse, sister publications of The Horse.

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