An Unexpected Sound: Heart Murmurs in Pets

Black and white dog drawing a heart with chalk“Did you know that Fluffy has a heart murmur?” Those words are enough to stop just about any pet owner in their tracks. Anything involving the heart not working properly is intimidating, yet heart murmurs in pets are a very common problem that we diagnose here at The Maywood Veterinary Clinic.

Read on to learn about diagnosing (and possibly treating) heart murmurs, should we hear that unexpected sound at your pet’s next visit.

What’s in a Sound

A heart murmur is defined as an abnormal sound that is auscultated during the heartbeat. Normally, blood is pumped through the four chambers within the heart as oxygen-deprived blood returns and freshly oxygenated blood is returned to circulation. As the blood travels through the heart, it must pass through four valves. The closure of these valves results in that characteristic lub-dub sound we all know.

A heart murmur is diagnosed when an abnormal sound is present. Anything that causes turbulence in blood flow can result in abnormal noise. Possibilities include a leaky valve, a narrowing in one of the blood vessels, an abnormal hole between heart chambers, thin blood, or something foreign within the organ, such as a parasite like heartworms.

Heart murmurs are typically described by their location on the heart, their timing during the heartbeat, and by grade.

Heart murmurs are graded on a scale of one to six. A grade one heart murmur is very soft, whereas grade six is quite loud. The grade of a heart murmur does not necessarily correlate with the severity of the problem causing the murmur.

What’s Next?

Heart murmurs in pets are a frequent diagnosis, so should we hear one in yours, be sure not to panic. The next step is to gain more information.

Once a heart murmur is auscultated, we need to determine what its cause is and whether any treatment is required. In order to accomplish this, we may recommend diagnostic testing, including:

  • Obtaining radiographs (x-rays) in order to determine the size of the heart and presence of fluid within the lungs and abdominal cavity
  • Performing blood testing, including heartworm screening
  • Recommending a heart ultrasound (echocardiogram) to assess the heart chambers, blood vessels, and valves

Depending on what we find, we may just monitor the murmur or recommend treatment. Heart problems sometimes require nutritional changes, as well as medications, depending on the nature of the diagnosis.

For any pet, good dental care, weight management, appropriate exercise, and parasite prevention are essential components of maintaining a healthy heart. They become even more important for an animal with an underlying heart issue.

Heart murmurs in pets are nothing to be ignored, but they are not always a cause for panic, either. You are in good hands should your pet be diagnosed with a murmur. We are well-equipped to get to the bottom of the issue and help your pet.