Diagnostic assessment of the small animal cardiac patient
Veterinary nurses play an important role in small animal practice. This article covers the diagnostic assessment that a veterinary nurse may perform on a small animal cardiac patient, from the physical examination to blood tests and advanced imaging. Cardiac patients can present in a variety of situations, including chronic conditions and acute emergencies. The veterinary nurse must be able to work with these patients in a calm manner to prevent creating any additional stress, and must also know when they should refer to a veterinary surgeon.
Diagnostic tests are often delegated to veterinary nurses, but not all veterinary nurses are confident doing them, especially when it comes to the sometimes challenging presentation of the cardiac patient. Cardiac patients can present to the practice in a variety of ways; for example, as a puppy or kitten with a heart murmur, an older dog with a classic left apical systolic murmur, in acute life-threatening heart failure or a cat following a thrombotic event. Some patients will require gentle handling, either because they have little myocardial oxygen reserve, are in pain or because their temperament will tolerate little handling. All these patients need to be handled calmly and respectfully, using practice-friendly guidelines to achieve the diagnostic tests required. The importance of creating reliable and repeatable results when assessing the efficacy of medication cannot be underestimated. Guidelines for taking blood pressure measurements in conscious patients have been published (Acierno et al, 2018), and this calm and measured technique can be transferred to other tests.