A Day in
the Life of a Holter Monitor
by Katherine Nevius, aka
My foundation bitch is now a veteran. No,
she hasn't yet attained the venerable age of six years. However, the hope that she and her
progeny will be able to arrive at least at that age is the reason she's won the
designation in this case. In this case, she's a veteran of the heart testing recommended
by the American Boxer Club for all breeding animals. Hedy's been bred twice, and has spent
a day in the company of the Holter monitor both times.
Lots of breeders decline the ABC's
invitation to holter their boxers. Numerous reasons are offered for that refusal. A number
of them, and their possible future solution, were cited recently in a post by a member of
one of the boxer e-mail lists who wrote: "New devices soon to come that do not
require shaving, are less cumbersome, easier to fit, and less expensive should speed the
more widespread acceptance of testing."
Not so easily solved are a few other
difficulties we face in deciding to comply with ABC's suggestion, among them the long
travel necessary for some to get to a Holter and the fear of what may be perceived as
negative results. The distance and financial considerations are, I think, the most
frequently offered stumbling blocks. But as another list member said, after watching her
own dog die of cardiomyopathy, what would it be worth to you to try to avoid putting one
of your puppy buyers through that same horrible experience?
That sentiment rests deeply in all of us
who care about these dogs. We want to do what's right, but we aren't convinced exactly
what that is. Whatever the proposed impediments, though, the ABC Health Committee says
it's important to do this test before we breed. Questioning that guideline is a little
like disputing an element of the Boxer Standard. We should strive to comply. After we
have, it's up to us to act, according to our own hearts and intellects, upon the
information we receive.
A day with a holter is an interesting
experience, albeit one that includes its share of difficulties. In the spirit of truth in
advertising, I'll run you through some of them so you'll know what to expect.
At $220 for the actual monitoring and $70
for the exam and reading of results, it's pretty pricey for us here. Then there's the
cosmetic consideration. How many of us look forward to the opportunity to plow up furrows
in the beautifully cared for coats of our show animals? As the mom of this recently shaved
bitch, though, I can say that the damage was slight. Four small (one inch) squares on the
chest and sides are nowhere near as obtrusive as some might think. And hair returns at a
fairly fast clip.
The monitor itself may be a little
cumbersome, but copious adhesive tape and VetWrap (you can have your choice of colors :-)
hold it pretty well in place. During her masquerade as a Dromedary, Hedy's behavior
occasionally indicated her displeasure with the device. First thing she did was run back
and forth under the azaleas in a fruitless attempt to dislodge it. She also felt some
compunction about performing waste elimination in its company, as if she thought the thing
might be watching. And its incessant hum seemed to disturb her sleep. I took pity and
agreed to share my bed with her; she tossed and turned much of the night (encouraging me
to join her, of course, in that activity).
And a logbook of those activities had to be
kept. It's important that the animal is allowed to observe its usual routine as the EKG
records its data; the idea is to see exactly what's what in the dog's day-to-day life.
That normal train of events happens to include some things that people usually don't
discuss in polite company, much less put down on paper. I found myself attempting to find
delicate euphemisms for certain of them (log book entry: "Hedy licking her
volvo" :-), as if the vets couldn't handle graphic reality. This part of the process
was challenging because it requires you to be aware of what your dog is doing every moment
of the twenty-four hour period. It isn't a requisite component of all Holter testing, but
some cardiologists insist on it.
A fact that needs to be stressed here is
probably the most frustrating thing about the testing process. It's is that you can't rest
on your laurels. Just because you have a good result once doesn't absolve you of the
responsibility to do it again, and even again -- every time you breed the dog. Results can
I believe that fear of those results may be
a strong motivating factor in many people's avoidance of the test. At this point, that's
fairly understandable. If we have no concrete idea what the results may mean, it's hard to
get motivated to do it -- especially in light of the difficulties inherent in the process.
In spite of the obstacles, I think that
everyone should make every effort to comply -- not for the immediate welfare of the breed
in general, but for his or her own information. It's better to operate in the light than
in the dark. That the illumination may still be a little cloudy shouldn't let us off our
own hook; some results -- especially extremely low or extremely large numbers of
ventricular premature contractions -- certainly make it possible for us to see the light.
All of us will benefit when that light brings us finally out of what's become a terribly
long, dark tunnel. According to the cardiologists with whom I've spoken, if we all do
embrace this testing protocol, there most definitely IS light at the end of it.