My dog has a heart murmur – what does it mean?

by on May 31st, 2013

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Whenever the word ‘heart’ is mentioned we always fear the worst. Heart murmurs are a relatively common problem in dogs and in this article, we explain what a heart murmur is and clarify that not all murmurs in dogs are a sign of a more serious problem.

Heart murmur

What is a heart murmur?

A heart murmur is a specific sound detected when listening to the heart with a stethoscope. This sound is a result of the blood flowing faster than normal within the heart itself or in one of the two major arteries leaving the heart (the aorta and pulmonary artery). Instead of the normal Lubb Dupp, an additional sound is present that can vary from a mild pshhh to a loud whoosh! Your vet may use a grading system from 1 to 6 to describe how loud the murmur is e.g. a grade 1 murmur is very soft and a grade 6 murmur is very loud.

Heart murmurs can develop at any stage of your dog’s life. However, the significance of the heart murmur can be very different depending on the age at which the murmur is first detected.

It often comes as a surprise to owners to be told that their dog has a heart murmur. Many dogs with heart murmurs seem normal to their owners and have no obvious symptoms of heart disease. However, it is important to remember that the presence of a heart murmur is just an indication that there may be underlying heart disease. In itself the heart murmur is not a diagnosis. This is why further investigations such as x-rays, ECG or an ultrasound scan of the heart (also referred to as an echocardiogram or ‘echo’) may be required.

If your dog has had a heart murmur detected but is not showing symptoms of heart disease, it is possible that the heart disease may not yet have developed significantly enough to affect the normal functioning of the heart. However, this situation can change and cardiac symptoms can develop rapidly. By gaining as much information as possible about your dog’s heart, you and your veterinary surgeon will be in the best position to recognise early symptoms of heart disease should they occur. This is very important as it means that appropriate treatment to assist heart function can be started promptly if and when it is required.

What is the best way to investigate a heart murmur?

The best way to investigate the cause of the heart murmur is with an ultrasound (an echocardiogram) examination of the heart. We will then be able to give you all the necessary information about the health of your dog’s heart and to advise you on what treatment, if any, is necessary.

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