For Pet Owners
A heart murmur is an abnormal sound that a veterinarian hears when listening to your pet’s heart through a stethoscope during a physical exam. Normally, we can hear two distinct normal heart sounds. When your vet hears an additional “whooshing” sound in between normal heart sounds, this is known as a heart murmur.
Learning that your dog or cat has a heart murmur or irregular heartbeat can be frightening for any animal owner. However, heart murmurs may be benign or harmless and may go away on their own, particularly in puppies and kittens. Some may reflect an early stage heart disease. Some may indicate a more serious cardiac condition.
However, unless clinical signs are present (see below), the presence of a heart murmur on its own does not warrant initiating cardiac treatments. The only way to know the extent of your pet’s condition is to perform additional diagnostic testing and determine the cause of the murmur and the severity of the heart disease, should your pet be diagnosed with one.
Not all dogs and cats diagnosed with a heart murmur will suffer from clinical cardiac disease; alternatively, not all dogs and cats that suffer from heart disease will have a murmur.
If your dog or cat does exhibit clinical signs of cardiac disease, a cardiac work-up will give you much-needed information.
Signs of cardiac disease in dogs and cats may include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid shallow breathing
- Abdominal distention
- Exercise intolerance or weakness
- Gray or blue gums
- Possible collapse
If your pet is diagnosed with a heart murmur, it is important to always watch for these indicators. If your pet exhibits one more of these signs, contact your primary veterinarian.
Emergency signals that warrant immediate and urgent veterinary involvement include:
- Blue or gray gums
- Intense non-stop cough
- Open mouth breathing and/or limb paralysis in cats
Your pet may be referred for an external echocardiographic examination only or be fully referred for a complete assessment.
If your pet is referred to VES Hospital for a full cardiac assessment, you will start with an initial cardiac consultation, including a thorough evaluation of any medical history or diagnostics provided by your referring veterinarian, as well as physical examination of your pet.
Your pet’s assessment may include an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart), blood pressure measurement, interpretation of your veterinarian’s radiographs, in-house radiographs if required, and/or an electrocardiogram. After assessment, we will discuss diagnosis, treatment plan and follow-up recommendations and will communicate with your primary veterinarian.
If your pet requires hospitalization, constant care and monitoring are provided on site within our dedicated intensive care unit providing advanced monitoring and treatments and staffed 24/7.
An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart. It allows to evaluate the different structures of the heart including chamber sizes, wall thickness, valve appearance and function, blood flow and contractility. It is a non-invasive and low-stress diagnostic test that will be performed with your pet lying on a padded table.
In order to improve contact with the ultrasound probe to the skin, we will recommend having a little area around the axillary region clipped of fur. If you would prefer to have your pet not clipped please let us know in advance and we will try to accommodate your wishes. In most cases no sedation is necessary. However, some of our patients may be more relaxed if used and improved the quality of the assessment. We will therefore ask for your permission to do so, if we feel it is in the best interest of your pet.
This test, when performed by an experienced clinician, is essential in diagnosing most heart diseases. It allows determining the nature of the heart condition, assessing its stage or severity and deciding of the best therapeutic approach.