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Heart Beat Problems (Standstill) in Dogs

Atrial Standstill in Dogs

Atrial standstill, a rare cardiac rhythm disorder, manifests in dogs through abnormal ECG readings, which show a lack of P-waves, indicative of atrial electrical activity. This condition can vary in duration from temporary to persistent or terminal, often leading to heart failure complications. Notably, English springer spaniels are most susceptible to atrial standstill. The ECG typically reveals a slow heart rate coupled with either regular or irregular rhythm patterns.

Symptoms and Types

  • Lethargy
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Bradycardia (slow heart rate)
  • Syncope (spontaneous loss of consciousness)


  • Elevated levels of potassium in the blood (hyperkalemia)
  • Heart conditions, particularly those affecting the atria (e.g., atrial myopathy)


Although standard laboratory tests such as complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis are typically performed on the animal, confirmation of atrial standstill often relies on ECG (electrocardiogram) results. Additionally, elevated levels of potassium and sodium in the blood, detectable through a biochemistry profile, are common findings. These results may also reveal abnormalities associated with other concurrent illnesses. Echocardiography plays a crucial role in assisting the veterinarian in determining the type and severity of heart disease.


For some dogs, atrial standstill may not pose an immediate threat, and hospitalization might not be necessary. However, in more severe cases, immediate intensive care may be required. Such animals often exhibit elevated blood potassium levels or severe dehydration. Intravenous fluid therapy is administered to stabilize the animal in these instances. If conventional methods fail to restore normal heart rhythm, surgical implantation of a pacemaker into the chest or abdomen may be necessary. This small medical device assists in regulating abnormal atrial heart activity.

Living and Management

The outlook for the dog hinges on addressing the underlying cause of the heart rhythm disturbance. Swift correction of the issue and reversal of hyperkalemia, if present, typically result in an excellent long-term prognosis.

Your dog will need rest in a calm environment, free from the presence of other pets and active children, to manage the symptoms of persistent atrial standstill. Despite having a pacemaker, lethargy and weakness symptoms may persist. Dogs with pacemakers require regular follow-up examinations and periodic ECGs to assess the device’s effectiveness and monitor the heart’s rhythm.

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