Heart Murmurs in Dogs and Cats

Cardiac disease is a common cause disease in small animals, though they often do not show obvious signs until they are in severe congestive heart failure. Accurate diagnosis and treatment before your pet is in crisis greatly improves the outcome when cardiac disease is present. In most cases, your veterinarian may hear a murmur or an arrhythmia before the development of other signs.

A heart murmur indicates that turbulent (disrupted) blood flow is present within the heart or major blood vessels leaving the heart. Although some murmurs may be “innocent,” many are indicative of underlying heart disease. Dogs and cats typically hide the early signs of heart disease and do not start showing symptoms until they are in a crisis situation; therefore, the “wait and see” approach is not recommended.

Chronic degenerative valvular disease is the most common form of heart disease and cause of murmurs in the canine patient. It is characterized by the slow progressive degeneration of the edges of the heart valves, with symptoms of respiratory difficulty and coughing. The gold standard for assessing the severity and treatment options for affected pets is an evaluation and echocardiogram performed by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist such as those of Chesapeake Veterinary Cardiology Associates (CVCA).

Chronic degenerative valve disease typically affects older small-breed dogs. A heart murmur is frequently detected during a physical exam before signs of congestive heart failure are noted.

Based on the severity of disease at initial evaluation, multiple medications may be needed; however, some patients may not require any therapy. Regardless, this is a chronic progressive disease that requires vigilant monitoring and consistent follow-up to optimize treatment and maintain an ideal quality of life for your pet.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the most common cause of heart murmurs in cats and is a primary disease of heart muscle that causes progressive muscle thickening of the left ventricle, the main pumping chamber of the heart. The disease produces symptoms of increased respiratory rate and effort, lethargy, and/or reclusiveness.

HCM varies widely in its degree of severity at diagnosis, time of onset, and responsiveness to treatment. Younger cats have a tendency to develop a more aggressive form of the disease, while older cats can develop thickened heart muscle as a natural response to underlying systemic disease. We try to rule out these diseases and then work closely with your primary care veterinarian to carefully monitor for their development over time, prevent the development of congestive heart failure, and maximize the length and quality of your companion’s life.

CVCA is the largest cardiology practice in the United States and treats over 12,000 dogs and cats each year. CVCA has eight board-certified veterinary cardiologists, two residents, and a team of professional client service and nursing staff who understand the importance of your pet’s comfort and well being.

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