Pacemaker implantation is a surgical procedure that requires guidance with fluoroscopy, a continuous real-time form of an X-ray that allows our cardiologists to work with precision.
The jugular vein (a large vein in the neck) is accessed surgically and the pacemaker lead is implanted, most commonly in the right ventricle. The lead is attached to the generator (battery power for the pacemaker system) and the generator is fixed under the skin in the neck region.
The pacemaker can be programmed externally using an interrogator, a device that communicates with the generator. This allows your cardiologist to adjust the heart rate and check battery life from outside the patient using a wand that sits on the skin over the top of the generator.
In general, the pacemakers we place have an average lifespan of six years. If your pet reaches the end of that generator’s battery life, your cardiologist can replace the generator.
If the pacemaker implantation is a scheduled procedure, your pet will be admitted in the morning and we will give them a slight sedative prior to anesthesia to help with pain and anxiety.
After your pet is under anesthesia, an IV will then be placed in your pet so we are able to administer medications and fluids as needed.
The surgery will then be performed and you will be notified once your pet is in recovery. Generally, your pet will stay one night in the hospital following surgery to ensure there are no immediate complications.
For one month following pacemaker implantation, it is important that your pet have strict confinement to allow scar tissue to properly form to keep the pacemaker in place. This assists in decreasing the risk of lead dislodgement.
Every six months post-implantation, the pacemaker needs to be rechecked to make sure it’s functioning properly and the battery life remains adequate.
As with any procedure requiring general anesthesia, there is a potential for an adverse reaction to the drugs being used. Poor reactions to anesthesia can range from mild allergic reactions such as hives to more serious complications like sudden heart failure, and in rare circumstances loss of the pet.
Complications specific to pacemaker implantation are relatively low (less than 5% for major complications).
The most common complications are lead dislodgement and infection. Antibiotics are used postoperatively to decrease the risk of infection. For the rest of your pet’s life, if an infection is suspected anywhere in the body (skin, ears, urinary tract, etc.), it should be treated aggressively to decrease the risk of pacemaker infection.
Your cardiologist will go over a full list of potential pacemaker complications and discharge instructions prior to surgery.
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