What you need to know about heart murmurs

What is a murmur?

A murmur is an abnormal noise produced when there is turbulent blood flow within the heart.  This noise is detected when using a stethoscope to listen to the heart during the physical examination.

What causes a murmur?

The heart contains four valves that control the flow of blood through the heart.  These valves ensure that blood flows in one direction.  Common causes for heart murmurs include leaky heart valves, a narrowed valve opening, excessively thickened heart walls or partial valve obstructions.

Does my pet have heart disease?

The majority of dogs with a heart murmur do have underlying heart disease.  Many cats with heart murmurs also have heart disease, but there are some cats that can have a murmur as a result of severe stress.

How can I tell if my pet has heart disease?

A heart ultrasound (aka echocardiogram) is the only way to truly determine if your pet has heart disease.  The ultrasound allows us to determine what type of disease is present and whether the pet would benefit from treatment.

What are signs of heart disease?

Dogs will often have a dramatic decrease in their ability to exercise.  Some dogs will begin to cough when excited.  In severe cases, the dog may faint or appear to have a seizure.  Cats rarely exhibit signs of heart disease until they are in heart failure.  The most noticeable symptom is an increase in the breathing rate and effort.

Is there anything I can do at home?

Monitoring the sleeping respiratory rate is the single most important thing you can do as a pet owner.  Sneak up on your pet while they are sleeping.  Take out your watch and count how many breaths they take in a full minute.  If they are consistently taking more than 30 breaths per minute while sleeping, and this is repeatable on several days, you pet should have a heart ultrasound performed as they likely have heart disease.

Can heart disease be treated?

There are a variety of treatments for heart disease.  Recent studies indicate that certain medications can actually extend your pet’s life-span if they are started on medications before they exhibit symptoms and go into heart failure.  The decision to begin heart medications is contingent upon the findings on the heart ultrasound.

 

Eric Brooks, DVM

Stow Kent Animal Hospital

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