Happy, Healthy, Hearts

posted on February 04, 2015 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

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!

Obesity as an Epidemic

posted on August 03, 2012 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

As the calendars turn to August, one thought enters my mind-food on a stick!  August brings the state fair, and while I know a deep fried candy bar on a stick is not healthy for me, as an occasional, once a year treat, it is okay to indulge.  While many people realize watching what we eat is important for a number of health reasons, these same people may not realize watching what our pets eat is just as important.

You may think an extra pound or two can’t hurt that much, but a pound is not just a pound.  While two or three additional pounds may have very little effect on you or me, they can be quite serious for your pet.  Three extra pounds on a 15 pound dog is equivalent to a 150 pound person gaining 30 extra pounds, and  3 extra pounds on a 10 pound cat is equal to 45 extra pounds on a 150 pound person!

Obesity and overweightness is the #1 health condition affecting American pets today.  Purina estimates that 58% of cats and 45% of dogs are overweight or obese.  This equals 35 million dogs and 54 million cats!

This is a serious epidemic as being overweight has been linked with a higher incidence of a number of health issues including oral (mouth) disease, skin disease, diabetes, pancreatitis, thyroid disease, joint diseases such as arthritis and hip dysplasia, hepatitis, urinary tract disease, asthma, torn ligaments such as ACLs, liver disease, heart disease, kidney disease, exercise intolerance, slower wound healing, increased anesthetic risk, and cancer.

Even more importantly, it has been found that being overweight can significantly decrease lifespan.  Purina did the first life-long study in dogs regarding diet and its effect on pets.  Half of the dogs were fed free choice, meaning they were allowed to eat as much as they liked.  The other half of the dogs were fed 25% less than what the free fed dogs ate.  The differences were amazing!

Dogs that were allowed to free feed had an average body condition score (BCS) of 6.7/9 (4.5/9 being ideal), whereas dogs that were slightly restricted had a BCS of 4.6.  The control fed dogs lived 15% longer-almost 2 years, with an average of 13 years in the control fed dogs versus 11.2 years in the free fed dogs.  Lastly, the control fed dogs didn’t start needing treatment for medical conditions until a median age of 12 years, whereas the free choice pets started needing treatment at a median age of 9.9 years.

What does this mean for your pet?  Simply put, a pet kept at a healthy weight throughout life is a healthier pet, and has a longer average lifespan.

How can you help keep your pet healthy?  Veterinarians use something called the body condition score to assess a pet’s weight, as there can be quite a range of “normal” weights for a specific dog breed.  Body condition score is a way to judge how much fat or muscle is on an animal and is more accurate than weight in judging an animal’s body composition.  It is based on a 1-9 scale, with a 4-5 being a healthy weight.

To score body condition, a couple areas are looked at:

  • Are the bones visible?  Bones such as the ribs, spine, and hip bones should not be visible in most dogs and cats.  Some breeds are naturally leaner and in them it may be normal to see the bones.
  • How easily are the ribs felt?  They should feel as though you are running your finger over the back of your other hand’s fingers.  There should be a slight fat covering, but you should not have to push hard to be able to feel the ribs.
  • Is there a tuck of the abdomen visible from the side of the animal?  There should be a nice tuck visible.
  • Is there a waist visible when viewing the animal from above?  There should be a waist visible.


If you think your pet may be overweight or obese and would like help formulating a diet plan, or if you would like to prevent your pet from becoming overweight, please contact us to discuss calorie requirements and feeding guidelines for your pet, or visit our website for more information.

Posted in: Obesity