What is a heart murmur? A heart murmur is an abnormal noise in your pet’s heart heard with a stethoscope. The noise is a swishing sound in the midst of the normal lub-dub of the heartbeat. It is often unnerving for people to learn that their pet may have heart disease. The primary care veterinarian will typically refer the patient to a cardiologist upon suspicion of heart disease for a few reasons. As with people, pets with cardiac disease show greatly improved quality of life and longevity when treated early on by both a primary care veterinarian and a veterinary cardiologist. Secondly, most veterinarians convey to families the risk of performing procedures requiring sedation or anesthesia on patients who have cardiac abnormalities.
Importance of Accurate Diagnosis. Most heart murmurs indicate underlying cardiac disease. There are many types of heart disease in pets. Some are acquired (occurring later in life), and some are congenital (present at birth). Although pets don’t typically have coronary artery disease like people do, they can have many other types of heart disease. Examples of these include conditions such as arrhythmias; abnormalities in the heart valves, chambers or vessels; or changes in the ability for the heart muscle to serve adequately as a pump.
Tragically, many pets seem fine until they develop severe heart disease and end up in a crisis situation. Finding a heart murmur gives you an opportunity to determine the exact problem and allows you to take action early in the course of the disease. Too often, pets end up in heart failure and the emergency room when early diagnosis and treatment could have resulted in longer, healthier lives. A cardiology evaluation when the abnormal sounds are first heard provides the best care and possible outcome for your pet.
How do we find out what’s wrong? The gold standard to assess heart disease is an evaluation and echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) performed by a veterinary cardiologist or resident. Veterinary cardiologists have four years of training beyond veterinary college and have passed a series of exams to become board-certified. Having an echocardiogram performed and interpreted by a board-certified cardiologist or resident allows for noninvasive, immediate means of diagnosing your pet’s condition by an expert who can determine the best treatment. Once the condition is properly diagnosed, treatment can begin.
How is heart disease treated? The vast majority of veterinary cardiac patients are treated on an outpatient basis with medication. Most pets tolerate this remarkably well with minimal to no side effects. Cardiologists utilize medications as well as nutritional support in their treatment of heart disease. Treatment plans are individually tailored to the pet, with the goal of enhancing the pet’s quality of life and longevity. With a team of doctors and a loving family, most pets live healthy, happy lives even with heart disease.
By Chesapeake Veterinary Cardiology Associates