Veterinary Cardiologists: Specialists with a Heart for Healing

By Martha Michael >>>

Imagine the excitement of bringing your new baby home. You cuddle with her in your bed, bond with her during feedings, and parade her in front of friends while you gush about her deep set eyes and tiny nose.

But at her first well-check you get bad news. Her heartbeat is abnormal, so they advise you to bring her to a cardiologist.

What if the “baby” you were worried about, while considering all the medical options available to you, was not a son or daughter, but your pet? The advice would actually be the same – seek out a cardiologist.

Veterinary specialties exist for animals, just like they do in human medical science. There are board certified specialists in ophthalmology, radiology, neurology, cardiology and other veterinary arenas as well.

Veterinary cardiologist Dr. Fred Brewer (pictured above) says he’s treated a range of species, from dogs and cats to snakes, birds and opossums.

“We all rely on our hearts – from embryology to pathology,” Dr. Brewer says. “It’s quite amazing.”

How do you know if your pet needs to see a cardiologist?

“You may not be able to pick up on the signs until it’s too late,” Dr. Brewer says. “If you’re taking your dog or cat in for a wellness check and if the vet hears sounds (that indicate) they may have heart disease, then you’ll want to contact a cardiologist. Owners can sometimes pick up on symptoms, such as they will be exercise intolerant, or if they’re losing weight.”

The basis for heart trouble in animals isn’t the same as humans.

“Dogs and cats don’t have clogged arteries and they don’t have heart attacks,” Dr. Brewer explains. “As for cardiology issues or issues with their hearts, some are congenital and some are acquired heart diseases.”

Weight is not the same issue with our pets as it is for us.

“For instance, you find atherosclerosis in humans, not in vet patients,” Dr. Brewer says. “Many dogs and cats are overweight and so they may get diabetes or endocrinopathy or other metabolic disturbances. If they’re overweight it can also affect the way they breathe.”

Veterinary cardiologists see some breeds more often than others because they have a predilection to contracting particular diseases. It’s not unlike the way certain breeding lines carry personality traits, such as dogs or cats with skittish personalities.

“A lot of smaller dogs are over-represented with certain cardiomyopathies,” Dr. Brewer reports.

Some of the breeds he sees the most include the Chihuahua, Maltese, Shih Tzu, and the Cavalier Spaniel. Also, Boxers, Great Danes and Doberman Pinschers tend to have greater numbers of cardiology issues.

There is speculation that Maine Coon cats and Ragdolls are two feline breeds with a genetic propensity for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM, which is the most commonly diagnosed cardiac disease in cats, according to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine website. A feline with the condition may show signs of lethargy or open-mouth breathing. It is diagnosed through the use of echocardiography, electrocardiography or thoracic radiography, and treatment may include medications to control heart rate or alleviate pulmonary congestion.

Janice Dosh of Santa Clarita owns a Bengal that was born with a heart murmur. While the breed is not known to suffer from cardiac problems as a rule, when they do, these cats have a different challenge. Like a lot of breeds that are very expensive to obtain, those that have medical problems can be the object of rejection or neglect, and “Lola” was no exception.

“We always made a home for stray cats or one from the litter in the neighborhood,” says Dosh. “If they couldn’t find a home for Lola, she was going to be put down.”

The Dosh family took their new Bengal to Dr. Tracy at The Cat Doctor and Friends in Santa Clarita, who referred them to a cat cardiologist to have her heart checked before being spayed. The procedure involved ultrasound, Dosh remembers, and the veterinarian specialist determined Lola could undergo the spaying with no problem.

“She is six years old and is doing well,” says Dosh. “Her markings are just beautiful, yet she is not sweet and friendly. This probably has more to do with her early months without much human contact. Lola is quite unique and we do love her.”

The combination of the art of medicine and surgical practice is what attracted Dr. Brewer to veterinary cardiology. He grew up in Long Beach and attended UCLA, followed by veterinary school and a three-year cardiology residency at Cornell University in New York. He completed an internship at California Animal Hospital Veterinary Specialty Group in West Los Angeles with Dr. Stephen J. Ettinger.

“Even my friends in the human medical field are so surprised when they find out there are veterinary cardiologists,” Dr. Brewer says. “The biggest hurdle is getting awareness that these specialties exist. The more awareness, the better care these pets get.”

And with a mobile practice, Dr. Brewer enables more animals in the greater Los Angeles area to get cardiac care. On Wednesdays he works at Animal Specialty Group in Woodland Hills, but on other days he has a flexible schedule. Pet owners can contact him and he travels to the location of the patients who need his expertise. Dr. Brewer can be emailed at [email protected]