Objectives. Our aim was to test the hypothesis that increased beat to beat morphologic variations in the body surface electrocardiogram (ECG) are associated with fragmented diastolic electrical activity that appears after coronary artery ligation and to correlate the appearance of spontaneous ventricular fibrillation after coronary ligation with the magnitude of the ECG beat to beat variability. Background. Unstable and variably delayed electrical activation precedes the development of ventricular fibrillation in dogs with acute ischemia. Detection of these highly variable low amplitude signals from the body surface is currently impossible. We have developed a system designed to measure the degree of beat to beat variability of the ECG. Methods. With high fidelity electrocardiography, subtle beat to beat ECG morphologic variations were detected in epicardial and body surface electrograms and quantified as the variance of the ECG voltage at specific points of the cardiac cycle. The ratio of the variance at the QRS offset to that of the QRS onset (beat to beat variability index) was then calculated. Results. Ventricular fibrillation developed in 12 of 27 dogs after left anterior descending coronary artery ligation. In 7 of the 12 dogs it occurred immediately (<15 min) after ligation; in the other 5 it developed late (15 min) after ligation. Dogs with subsequently immediate ventricular fibrillation had a significantly higher beat to beat variability index than that of dogs with late or no ventricular fibrillation both before coronary ligation (4.7 ± 1.4 vs. 1.1 ± 0.2 and 0.8 ± 0.1, respectively, p < 0.001) and after ligation (6.4 ± 2.6, 1.0 ± 0.6 and 1.2 ± 0.6, respectively, p < 0.001). In dogs that developed ventricular fibrillation immediately after coronary ligation, the arrhythmia was preceded by fragmented diastolic electrical activity on the epicardial electrogram and a simultaneous increase in the beat to beat morphologic variability of the terminal portion of the body surface ECG QRS complex. Conclusions. Beat to beat QRS offset morphologic variations appear to be increased before and further increased after coronary artery ligation in dogs that develop ventricular fibrillation immediately after ligation. Increased beat to beat variability index may be associated with the presence of electrophysiologic instability and can predict early ventricular fibrillation.