Pet Talk: Pacemakers aren’t just for humans

UI College of Veterinary Medicine

The heart is essential to the body, regardless of the species. Luckily, when dogs have heart problems, veterinary cardiologists, like Dr. Ryan Fries at the UI Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, are able to keep things ticking.

Pacemakers have been used in human medicine since the early 1960s. In the late 1980s, Dr. David Sisson at the UI became one of the first veterinary cardiologists to place intravenous pacemakers in canine patients. Currently, the university’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital is the only veterinary facility in the state that offers this procedure.

In dogs, pacemakers are used both as a life-saving intervention and to improve quality of life.

How pacemakers work

“A pacemaker is made up of two parts,” Fries said. “One part consists of a generator, a lithium battery and a computer chip that we can program to meet the dog’s needs. The other part consists of wires, called leads, that extend from the generator through veins in the neck and are attached to the inside of the heart.”

The pacemaker is activated when the dog’s heart rate slows below the acceptable range set by the veterinarian, generally between 80 and 120 beats per minute. When the pacemaker kicks on, it stimulates contractions of the heart until the heart’s rhythm is reset and can continue on its own.

Cardiologists like Fries place…

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