Heart Murmurs in Dogs: What You Need to Know

By on January 29, 2012

Heart murmurs in dogs are something that would rightly cause great concern for any owner whose beloved canine pal has been recently diagnosed with. If your dog has been diagnosed with a common heart murmur problem, it may be a sign of canine cardiac disease. Treatment for heart murmurs in dogs exist if properly diagnosed and detected in a timely fashion.

Dog Heart Murmur

Dog heart anatomy: from left. 1 left ventricle, 2 paraconal interventricular groove, 3 right ventricle, 4 arterial cone, 5 pulmonal trunc, 6 arterial ligament, 7 aortic arch, 8 brachiocephalic trunc, 9 left subclavian artery, 10 right auricle, 11 left auricle, 12 coronal groove, 13 pulmonal veins.

What is a Heart Murmur in Dogs?

According to the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, a heart murmur results from blood flow running through the heart that is abnormal. Some heart murmurs are perfectly normal while others, similar to those heard in ageing dogs, may be a sign that some type of heart disease is prevalent. The most common cardiac diseases in dogs include:

1. Congenital birth defects that show up when a puppy is young.
2. Degenerative valve disease (heart valve leaks) that mostly affect older or middle-aged dogs.
3. Loss of heart muscle tissue that is typically seen in young dogs or middle-aged larger dog breeds.

Detecting Heart Murmurs / Heart Disease in Dogs

Heart disease may not show up or be detected until it has reached a point where your dog experiences heart failure, collapse, or even sudden death. Your veterinarian can certainly check your dog out for heart murmurs by using a stethoscope. However, as the dog owner, your responsibility is to be on alert for certain signs such as difficulty in breathing, coughing, intolerance to exercise, or a swollen abdomen (caused by fluid retention).

In D.J. Thompson's: A practitioner's approach to canine cardiology, the guidance on detection and treatment of canine heart murmur says:

Cardiology is an exciting subject and recent advances in therapy have improved not only the life expectancy of dogs with heart disease but also the quality of life. The most important factor is to recognize that the problem is cardiac in origin. The elderly animal with a cough and a heartmurmur must be examined and investigated thoroughly before assuming that the murmur and cough are connected. Overall incidence of heart disease has been estimated at 11 · 3% with the congenital type accounting for 0 · 5% (Detweiler & Patterson, 1965).

Congenital heart disease should be detected early in life, and certainly no later than at presentation of the puppy for primary vaccination, but will only be diagnosed if the puppy is thoroughly auscultated. The more common congenital cardiac defects, in approximate order of incidence, are patent ductus arteriosus, pulmonic stenosis, aortic stenosis, persistent right aortic arch, ventricular septal defect, tetralogy of Fallot and atrial septal defect (Patterson, 1965). Early diagnosis is important as, particularly with patent ductus, surgery performed at an early stage can be curative.

Looking at the guidance above, you'll see that early detection is crucial but treatment is viable if detected in time and given the proper surgical or medicinal intervention by a vet.

Canine cardiac disease can further be checked for by specific information regarding your dog's breed type, age, chest x-rays, blood pressure measurements, and EKG readings. For a definitive diagnosis, an ultrasound of your dog's heart is required.

Treatment For Heart Disease in Dogs

Treating your dog back to good health will depend entirely upon the stage of the disease and how severely it has affected other parts of the body. If your puppy is young and has a congenital defect, it may be surgically removed.

Heart disease that is acquired later in your dog's life requires heavy lifestyle management and changes in living. Such changes include maintaining a healthy body weight, additional exercise (or reduced activity depending upon your dog's condition), special cardiac diets, and specific medications that can be used to reduce stress put on your dog's heart from his condition.

The prognosis for dogs that have canine heart disease will vary. Some dogs may be fortunate enough to have successful long-term care. Others may have a shorter lifespan ranging from a few weeks to a few years. It is important to keep in mind that the earlier your dog's condition is assessed, the easier it will be to treat and the odds will be greater that your dog or puppy will enjoy a long, healthy life.

Sarah Fortrell advises on the cause and treatment for heart murmur in dogs:

There are several possible reasons for heart murmur. One is that the puppy is born with a defect in his heart. Congestive heart failure in dogs is distressing but about 3 million dogs a year are diagnosed with it. While it cannot be completely cured, there are treatments that can be done that can help your dog enjoy a good quality of life nonetheless.

Anemia caused by dog parasites can also be the cause of heart murmur in dogs. You must make it a point to bathe your dog regularly and comb his hair with a fine tooth comb to prevent parasite infestation. Mitral valve disease is another possible cause. High blood pressure, age or compounding heart conditions produce weakened mitral valves. The outcome of this is that instead of pumping blood out like it should, blood leaks to the atrium and the consequence is audible heart murmur sounds. This is the most dangerous cause and must be attended to as soon as possible.

Be vigilant if your dog gets tired easily, has fainting spells and has difficulty breathing. These are a few signs of heart murmur. He will not want to eat and move around much. A dog with heart murmur will also likely have bluish/gray gums and have a problem with water retention. If you these behavioral and physical symptoms manifest in your dog, you must bring him to the vet for a check-up immediately.

For every owner, ensuring your dog's heart is healthy is something you can do via regular vet check ups, observing your dog's day to day behaviour, paying particular attention to their energy and activity levels and providing the best nutrition for your dog's age, breed type and lifestyle.

Having a dog diagnosed with a heart murmur is not the end of the world. Modern veterinary treatment and medicinal intervention can provide your dog with a management approach to this condition. The key is to be vigilant and make sure your dog receives the best medical attention possible (dog insurance would be a good investment for any dog owner, but particular those who own breeds susceptible to congenital health problems).

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4 Comments

  1. Brian Bradway (c/o Paws4 LIfe)

    April 19, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    I am a certified Instructor in Pet CPE and First Aid, as well as other courses with adults. I believe that whether you are one of the following:

    1) Dog and or Cat owner
    2) work in a dog kennel
    3) Pet Walker
    4) Pet Sitter
    5) works in a doggie day care
    6) vets and Vet technician

    Then you should take a Dog and or cat class in knowing How to perform CPR on your Pet, Know what to so if they become sick, injured or Ill. We show you you how to take a dogs pulse and respirations, what is a normal pulse, what to do if your pet is choking. And much more informative information. I am certified in Pet CPR/FIRST-AID Instructor from the American Red Cross. If you would like to receive a brochure from Paws 4 Life, please either email us at claws2paws4life@yahoo.com
    or visit our web site at http://www.paws-4-life.com and while there sign our guestbook and please fill out a contact us form. PEACE…PAWS ……LOVE

  2. kendra

    April 4, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    If my dog has a heart murmur can he be throwing up forum it?

  3. cedar

    January 4, 2015 at 12:15 am

    We just found out a month ago that our 8 year old Bassett hound has a very terrible heart murmur along with congestive heart failure. He is in 3 different medications right now. He will go back to the vet on Monday. I did take him to see a different vet a few days ago and was just told the murmur is so bad he needs to see a specialist. I did make a call to see what cost I was looking at and to my shock $400 just to go and be seen and talk with the cardiologist. I feel like such a bad pet owner but I just can’t afford that for one visit. I am paying for the high price medical now. My heart goes out to anyone dealing with this. We also have a older dog with many problems including blindness. We do everything we can for our fur babies but I am at a loss with this.

  4. julisa

    May 14, 2015 at 7:01 am

    My 3 year old Yorkie mix and I was just told he had a heart murmur. I don’t know of there is anything I can do to help him if there’s anything I can do I just hope the cought it in time and have a way to still let him live a long health life

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