February makes us all think of hearts, but probably not in the way we think of hearts. The heart is the pump for the body, circulating oxygen rich blood from the lungs to the body, and returning the blood to the lungs. One of the more common heart issues that we see with pets is a heart murmur.
Heart murmurs are a noise that is heard while listening to the heart with a stethoscope. Murmurs indicate that blood flow is not smoothly following the normal path. Heart murmurs are graded in intensity from grade 1 to 6, with grade 1 being very soft, and grade 6 being very loud. This is not necessarily an indication of severity, and this number may vary slightly depending on who is doing the listening.
Heart murmurs may be found in pets that are not showing any signs of heart disease. Symptoms of heart disease can include weakness, exercise intolerance, or coughing. The most common cause of a heart murmur is a valve that is leaking. There are other congenital or genetic issues which can cause murmurs however.
When we first hear a murmur, we will likely recommend a series of tests to find the cause. Chest x-rays or radiographs will help look at the overall size and shape of the heart and blood vessels, as well as look for any fluid buildup in the lungs. An ultrasound of the heart, or echocardiogram, will help identify which valves are leaking, or will look for congenital issues such as strictures or holes. It will also assess wall thickness and the ability of the heart to fully contract. And EKG may also be used to look for abnormal heart beats or electrical signals.
Some heart murmurs are present and never cause an issue for a pet. Others can progress to cause congestive heart failure. As the turbulent blood flow occurs, it can start to change the shape of the heart, and cause the walls to thicken or weaken. This can lead to changes in how the heart is able to pump the blood through the body, which can cause fluid to start to build up in the lungs or abdomen. Medications, dietary supplements, or even surgery may be recommended pending the exact cause of the murmur, the function of the heart as determined by testing, and they symptoms your pet is exhibiting.
Every time your pet sees a doctor, we listen to the heart and lungs to help catch changes such as murmurs early. If you notice your pet is having difficulty doing exercises, seems to be weak or collapsing, or if it develops a cough, we should examine your pet to assess the heart and lungs. Please call us today!