Electrocardiography in Exotic Animal Species

Key Points

  • Electrocardiography monitors the electrical activity of cardiac muscle cells and is particularly useful during long-term anesthesia when disturbances in acid-base and electrolyte balance can lead to arrhythmias.
  • Alligator clips are generally not attached directly to small patients or in species with delicate skin. Instead clips are attached to the tips of small-gauge hypodermic needles or stainless-steel suture that has been passed through the skin and subcutaneous space.
  • Adhesive electrocardiogram (ECG) patches or button electrodes can be placed on the foot pads of small mammals or directly onto the skin of mammals or large, smooth reptiles.
  • The normal ECG tracing in the bird can resemble ventricular tachycardia, primarily because of a large negative S wave.
  • The normal reptile ECG tracing can include an SV wave, which represents depolarization of the sinus venosus, low amplitude waveforms, and longer ST and QT intervals.
  • Always use caution when using ECG as an indicator of life in reptiles as the heart can continue to contract for long periods of time following death. Always use an additional monitoring technique to confirm circulation like capnography or Doppler ultrasound flow.
  • This article is part of a RACE-approved Anesthetic Monitoring teaching module. Visit the articles on monitoring the degree of central nervous system depression (anesthetic depth), blood pressure, capnometry, pulse oximetry, and vital signs for additional information in exotic animal patients.

Electrocardiography can be used to detect and diagnose arrhythmias and conduction abnormalities, particularly during long-term anesthesia. How are leads attached to exotic animal patients? And what is the normal appearance of normal electrocardiogram tracings in birds or reptiles . . .

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