The Beat Goes On

posted April 15th, 2010 by
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By Derinda D. Lowe, APR

She treats congenital heart disease,degenerative valve disease, arrhythmias,pericardial disease and more, and yet, herpatients are never humans! Meet Dr. Nicole Culwell, a veterinarianspecializing in cardiology at Oklahoma State Univrsity’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences. Culwell is one of 32 faculty members at the center’s
Boren Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital located on the Stillwater campus. Originally from Ossining, N.Y., Culwell earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1998 and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Cornell University in 2003.

She completed a 1-year Small Animal Medicine and Surgery Internship at Oklahoma State University in 2004. In December 2007, she completed a 3-year Residency in Cardiology and simultaneously earned a Master of Science degree at The Ohio State University. In June 2009, Culwell passed the certifying examination to become a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Medicine, Specialty of Cardiology.

“Cardiology was an area of veterinary medicine that I always found fascinating,” explains Culwell. “Although we rarely cure the patient, I believe it is a field in which we can do a lot to drastically improve the quality of life for the patient for a period of time.”

She heads the cardiology service at the OSU Boren Veterinary Teaching Hospital where they provide referral and consultation services for veterinarians and clients pursuing diagnostics and treatment for veterinary patients with cardiac disease. “We treat a variety of species including cats, dogs, horses, cows, and camelids such as alpacas,” says Culwell. “The majority of our cardiology patients (greater than 95 percent) are small animals (dogs and cats).” The OSU Cardiology Service treats a wide variety of diseases, including congenital heart disease, degenerative valve disease (endocardiosis), cardiomyopathies (malfunction of the heart muscle), congestive heart failure, arrhythmias, systemic hypertension, pulmonary hypertension, heartworm disease, endocarditis, pericardial disease, and cardiac tumors.

The most common cardiac disease Culwell treats is degenerative valve disease. It is the most common cardiac disease in the dog and is most prevalent in smaller breeds. The cardiology service is a recent addition to the veterinary hospital, starting just two years ago. “The state of Oklahoma has never had a veterinary cardiologist, so the biggest challenge we have is letting people know we are here,” smiles Culwell. “The OSU Cardiology Service offers clients some of the most advanced diagnostic services and therapies available. Most patients have diagnostic testing performed on an outpatient basis with results available the same day.”

“We are especially excited about our latest addition to the cardiology service. We recently finished installation of a cardiac catheterization lab,” says Culwell. She explains that this surgical suite utilizes fluoroscopy, which is a movie version of x-rays. This technique helps guide surgical implantation of pacemakers. Using fluoroscopy, contrast studies may also be performed to image the heart and associated vessels. Such techniques are used to diagnose and treat various congenital heart diseases.

Culwell advises that when pet owners see signs of breathing difficulty, weakness, or difficulty exercising, they should visit their regular veterinarian so that their pet may be examined. “If your veterinarian determines your pet needs further evaluation by a cardiac specialist, he/she can refer the case to OSU’s veterinary hospital.” Culwell reports that the cardiology service’s client base is growing. The OSU Cardiology Service treated approximately 300 cases its first year of receiving patients and is on track to treat approximately 400 cardiac cases this year.

And with the latest high-tech equipment installed and operational, the case load is likely to continue to grow, allowing OSU to help dog owners in Oklahoma and surrounding regions for a long time to come. To reach Dr. Nicole Culwell, call (405) 744-7000 and ask for the Small Animal Clinic. Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Health Sciences is one of 28 veterinary colleges in the United States and is fully accredited by the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association. The center’s Boren Veterinary Medial Teaching Hospital is open to the public and provides routine and specialized care for small and large animals. It also offers 24-hour emergency care and is certified by the American Animal Hospital Association. For more information, visit

Procedures available include:
• Echocardiography – a noninvasive method of evaluating the heart. Ultrasound creates images of the heart that allow evaluation of cardiac structures and function. Doppler imaging is especially important in the evaluation of patients with congenital heart disease allowing veterinarians an opportunity to look at the structure and function of the heart, which is essential in making diagnoses.
• Radiography – a diagnostic test using x-rays to produce an image of the lungs and heart.
• Electrocardiography (ECG) – a test that produces a tracing of the cardiac rhythm and allows evaluation of the electrical activity of the heart.
• Holter monitoring – a device that records cardiac rhythm over a 24-hour period. This test allows Culwell to evaluate the severity of a cardiac arrhythmia and to screen for certain types of cardiomyopathy that occurs in breeds like Doberman Pinschers and Boxers.
• Pacemakers – devices that are surgically implanted in patients to treat cardiac arrhythmias that involve abnormally low heart

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