That Sounds Off: Pet Heart Murmurs
“Has anyone ever told you that Fluffy has a heart murmur?” …This question is one that causes many pet owners to feel a little woozy, but isn’t always as scary as it sounds. Pet heart murmurs are a common diagnosis and one that The Pet’s Place Animal Hospital wants you to understand a little more about. Read on to learn the basics about this important topic.
Pet Heart Murmur Basics
No one wants to be diagnosed with a heart murmur, but a good number of pets who have one are perfectly healthy. A pet heart murmur is diagnosed when additional noise can be heard within the lub dubs of the normal heart beat. This noise is simply caused by turbulence within the blood flow.
When we diagnose a pet with a heart murmur, we will pay attention where we can best hear the murmur (point of maximum intensity), what portion of the heartbeat we can hear it with (systolic, diastolic, holosystolic), and the grade.
A heart murmur grade simply reflects how loud the murmur is.
- Grade I – Very faint
- Grade II – Soft murmur localized to one area
- Grade III – Intermediate murmur that may radiate to other areas
- Grade IV – Loud, radiating throughout chest
- Grade V – Loud with palpable vibration of the chest
- Grade VI – Loud and does not require the stethoscope to be on the chest wall to be heart
Heart murmur grades can be a little misleading, however, because they don’t necessarily correlate with how the heart’s function is affected. A grade I murmur can cause serious trouble in certain cases, while a grade III may be totally asymptomatic.
The Culprit Behind All That Noise
So what causes enough turbulence of blood flow to make a murmur happen? There are many reasons that we may hear a heart murmur when we auscult a pet.
Common causes of heart murmurs in pets include:
- A leaky valve within the heart
- A thickened or narrow heart valve
- An abnormal hole between the walls of the heart chambers
- Connection of vessels that should not normally be connected
- Anemia or other conditions that affect blood viscosity
Further testing such as an echocardiogram (heart ultrasound) is typically needed to diagnose the cause of a murmur.
If your pet has been diagnosed with a heart murmur, fear not. Many heart murmurs never cause any trouble, but with good care we can often help pets with symptomatic murmurs as well.
Most murmurs should be investigated to determine an underlying cause. We may recommend testing such as radiographs, blood work, heartworm testing, an electrocardiogram (ECG), or an echocardiogram to find out what is causing your pet’s problem.
For a pet with an asymptomatic murmur, often treatment is proactive. Preventing problems by providing good dental care, utilizing heartworm prevention, and providing good nutrition including an omega-3 fatty acid supplement is key. We may also ask you to monitor your pet’s resting respiratory rate at home.
If your pet’s murmur is symptomatic, additional therapies and medications will likely be prescribed. It is very important for us to see your pet often and for you to alert us to signs of trouble early so that we can stay ahead of any heart issues.
Pet heart murmurs are a common diagnosis and one that The Pet’s Place Animal Hospital wants you to understand a little more about. Read on to learn the basics about this important topic.