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!

April showers bring May flowers…which may be toxic!

posted on May 02, 2014 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

As the rains fall, we look forward to the spring flowers that will soon be blooming.  While their bright colors remind us of warmer days coming, they may pose a hazard to our pets.

There are a number of toxic spring flowers that are common in our yards this time of year.  These include things like daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, lily of the valley, rhododendrons, and azaleas.

Daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths are part of the same family and contain a chemical which can cause drooling, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, increased heart rate, abdominal cramping, abnormal breathing, or cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal heart beats or rhythm).  The bulb contains the highest concentration of this chemical, but all parts of the plant contain some, so if your pet has ingested a daffodil, tulip, or hyacinth veterinary attention should be sought.

Rhododendrons and azaleas are also from the same family.  These plants contain a chemical that is toxic to muscles in the body.  This leads to clinical signs such as drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, irregular heart rate and beat, low blood pressure, weakness, tremors, and depression.  In severe cases it can lead to blindness (usually temporary), seizures, and coma.  Prognosis is generally good with treatment, so if you see your pet ingest one of these plants or if you are concerned that your pet may have, please contact us.

Lily of the Valley also blooms this time of year, and is perhaps one of the more toxic plants talked about today.  Lily of the Valley is not a true lily, so it does not cause the kidney failure other lilies can (yes, most lilies are toxic).  Instead, it contains chemicals that affect the heart.  Signs of ingestion can start with vomiting or diarrhea, but progress to a slow heart rate, arrhythmias, seizures, and can be fatal if left untreated.  If your pet is showing these signs or you know they ingested lily of the valley, contact a veterinarian immediately.

These are just a small sample of common flowers that may be toxic to our furry friends.  Both Pet Poison Helpline and the ASPCA have excellent websites for checking if plants are toxic.  If there is any question whether your pet got into a toxic plant or if your pet is exhibiting any of the signs listed above, please contact us.