The first implantation of a pacemaker into a dog was performed in 1968.  Since then, the procedure has been performed on a growing number of patients every year. In the last two decades, VRCC has implanted more than a 100 pacemakers in dogs and cats!

So, what is a pacemaker?
It is a device about the size of a silver dollar that helps to speed up a slow heart rate by stimulating the heart muscle with electrical impulses and regulating its contractions.  It can help extend a dog or cat’s life by years.

How would I know if my dog or cat needs a pacemaker?
Pacemakers are much more common in dogs, though if you notice any of these symptoms in your cat, be sure to see a board certified veterinary Cardiologist.  Dogs and cats can present symptoms in a variety of ways:

  • Slowed gait (slowed walking pace)
  • Increased sleepiness
  • Fainting episodes
  • Trouble exercising like normal – “exercise intolerance”
  • Slowed heart rate

All of these symptoms can be caused by a problematic heart rate, when the atrium and ventricles of the heart can no longer communicate well.

Patients who receive pacemakers will typically live their normal lives after their recover period.  In many cases, they actually have more energy and return to previous activities once surgery and recovery is complete.

Here are some other important facts to know about veterinary pacemakers:

  • Pacemakers are placed through the jugular vein so the procedure is minimally invasive and recovery time is faster for the pet. Because cats have a smaller, more fragile jugular vein, pacemaker surgeries are less common.
  • Some pacemakers can also detect movement during exercise and increase the heart rate at these times (this is named a “rate-responsive” pacemaker).
  • The generator (battery) life of a pacemaker is typically 4-6 years so it may require a change if a pacemaker is put into a younger dog.
  • VRCC tries to keep costs affordable to our clients by using pacemakers that have been donated from human medical institutions. The same device is used in humans as in animals.

My dog and/or cat has a pacemaker, now what?
Exercise should be restricted for 4-5 weeks to allow healing and you should watch for any signs of infection or swelling. Because of the position of the pacemaker, your pet should not be restrained by a collar. Leaving the area undisturbed will promote healing.

For long-term management of your pet’s condition, you should be sure to be compliant with follow up visits as dictated by the veterinary cardiologist. Monitoring the battery life and ensuring the pacemaker settings are optimized and customized to meet your pet’s individual needs are very important. There will be a checkup shortly after surgery and once the pacemaker settings are correct.  You should also expect an annual visit to the Cardiology department at VRCC.

Dr. Karen Sanderson, Diplomate ACVIM (Cardiology) with VRCC, saw a dog named Boomer who required a pacemaker after a fluke accident.  This is a great video about how the quality of life can really be restored after the implementation of a pacemaker.  Watch the video here!