The stethoscope: A simple instrument with great utility
The vet’s office
By Dr. Roger Krogstad, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
Many times when you see a picture of a physician or a veterinarian, hanging around the neck is the old, reliable stethoscope. Probably one of the oldest pieces of medical equipment, the stethoscope is still a very valuable yet simple diagnostic tool. From listening for a heart murmur in young puppies or searching for the moist rales of an older pet in early heart failure, this tool is relied upon multiple times daily in veterinary practice.
With every examination the heart and lungs are routinely listened to, or auscultated. The rate, rhythm, and sound of the heart are documented in the patient’s medical record. With the more expensive models of stethoscopes, very subtle abnormal sounds can be heard that may indicate early heart disease. Some clients may even be advised to purchase a basic stethoscope to monitor changes in heart rate or sound at home as aging pets progress into potential heart failure.
If children are present for the examination, I often ask if they would like to listen to their pet’s heart. For the less bashful children, their faces beam when they hear the rhythmic thump, thump of the heart.
In addition to heart and lung sounds, the healthy pet will have a distinct gurgle and squirt — called borborygmus — abdominal sound as the small intestine contracts. Absence of these sounds, along with other gastrointestinal symptoms, may suggest gastrointestinal obstruction or early viral illness, which often causes gastrointestinal stasis. Humans experience gastrointestinal stasis when confronted by the stomach flu and breakfast revisits us later in the afternoon. Pets get many similar illnesses as people, but few transmit from one pet to another.
For very small pets, such as parakeets or cockatiels, I have an electric amplified stethoscope to pick up their minute heart sounds and rapid beats, which are sometimes over 360 beats per minute. This stethoscope also records data that can be downloaded to a computer for further analysis or referral. These types of stethoscopes enable the aging veterinary ear to still retain that important diagnostic skill.
Even though the modern surgical anesthesia monitoring systems include advanced ways of obtaining a patient’s vital signs, the surgical technician constantly rechecks and monitors the anesthetized pet with a stethoscope to provide an extra level of safety.
From earliest straight cone to today’s modern stethoscope, the principle of sound amplification remains the same. The stethoscope, as simple as it is, is a “workhorse” and a valuable medical tool.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.