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How to Detect Dog’s Heart Murmur Symptoms

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Types of heart murmur in dogs

Heart murmur in dogs is the unusual heart sound that is audible when using a stethoscope. The normal heart beat has a rhythm and it shows the continuous blood pumping from the dog heart. Using Stethoscope it is very easy to identify any abnormality in the blood flow in a dogs heart. The loudness of the heart murmur in dogs is one of the factor which shows the turbulence of the abnormal blood flow, but it may not be accurate all the time. In many cases there may not be any clinical signs to know if the dog suffers this turbulence in its heart. Only a medical examination may reveal it. The sound may be like clicks, splitting sound, gallop, ejection etc.

The heart murmur in canines occurs due to physiological reasons as well as structural problems. This is a common occurrence in young puppies and in some breeds. Young puppies of the age 6-8 weeks show this condition and within months they outgrow it. This type of heart murmur has only low intensity and may not show any external symptoms and is relatively harmless. But if this condition persists even after the puppy attains 4-5 months of age then it can be a case of concern.

The heart murmur due to structural reasons arises when the dog’s heart has some structural abnormality. The heart has a usual way of blood pumping and blood flow, but under abnormal conditions the blood may flow in opposite direction causing turbulence. A dog can acquire this condition by birth also.

The third type of physical condition that can cause the heart murmur is functional heart murmur that is due to the extra cardiac reasons, ie, something that goes wrong outside the heart. Anemia or low red blood cells, low protein levels in blood, some types of fever, infection, obesity in dogs, pregnancy etc can also cause heart murmur. In low levels of red blood cells and protein, the blood is thinner and is more watery in nature causing the turbulence while passing thorough the valves. This condition is caused in puppies by some infection or infestations. Adult dogs which suffer blood loss may also have heart murmur which may cause even serious problems.

Certain breeds of dogs are prone to several heart conditions in Dogs like acquired mitral valve disease, congenial mitral valve disease; myocardial failure, ductus arteriosus, pulmonary stenosis, subvalvular aortic stenosis, congenial tricuspid valve, ventricular septal defect etc. Small breeds, Labrador retriever, German Shepherd, English bulldog, Golden retriever, English Springer Spaniel, etc are some breeds that are prone to heart problems that can cause the heart murmur.

Heart murmur depends on the loudness and there are 6 grades of it. Though this loudness is not a criterion for determining the seriousness of the condition but is very important while determining the treatment methods and procedures.

The grade 1 is very soft and will take a few minutes to detect and the grade 2 is also soft but is from to a smaller area and we can hear it distinctively. The grade 3 is somewhat intense and we can easily detect it in more than one point. Grade 4 is louder and will be at many areas on the chest, and there is no vibration in this case. The grade 5 is a bit of concern and is much louder accompanied with a vibrating effect pointing to a particular area. Grade 6 is very loud vibration and we can hear it even if the stethoscope is an inch or two away from the chest.
In most cases only the structural reasons may show some kind of symptoms. The general symptoms that point out that the dog has some heart murmur and related problems are,

  • Coughing
  • Bluish tongue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue, weak body and the dog shows lesser stamina, will have lesser endurance for exercises.
  • The dog may display agitation
  • The mucous membranes will be pale in appearance
  • Heart beat will be either too slow or too fast.
  • The respiratory rate increases and is with effort. We should pay proper attention to congestion or difficulty in breathing.
  • The dog may faint occasionally.
  • The belly may appear swelled like a pot.

Pale gums and fainting spells are cases of concern and these occur when there is less oxygen supply to the body parts due to decrease in blood flow. If these symptoms are seen, we have to seek medical attention immediately. These could be structural heart problems. Heart murmur itself is not a disease but just a symptom of an underlying problem.

If a heart murmur is detected during routine examination, the doctor checks the grade of the murmur and may ask you to bring the pet after a few weeks to see if it sustains. The heart murmur in puppies are relatively harmless if it disappears after a while and if it does not show any sign of disappearing, the veterinarian may suggest a few tests and diagnosis. The stress level of the pet also causes heart murmur and so it cannot be determined if it is due to any other problem. In such cases, the vet may advice you to come back later to have a re-examination. A structural heart murmur may show external symptoms which we ourselves can see. This is also taken into consideration. If these symptoms are visible the vet may take a few more tests.

  • Blood tests: A test to determine the counts helps detect if the problem is due to the RBC level or protein levels. It can also reveal any underlying kidney or other organ problems that may be reflected in the heart beat.
  • X-rays of the dog’s chest can give information about the heart size and shape with the blood vessels and lung patterns.
  • ECG detects the heart rate abnormalities, heart chamber size, and also the heart electrical activities.
  • Cardiac Ultrasound: An ultrasound shows the contractions, the chamber size, thickness of heart muscle walls and valve function. It can also detect heart-worms and tumors.
  • Enquiring about the dog breed is also a part of diagnosis. Certain breeds may have predisposed heart conditions that can affect the treatment.
  • The location of the murmur, duration of it and its timing in the heart cycle all are important part of a proper diagnosis.

Treatment for the dog’s heart murmur is done for the underlying cause. It may be caused by structural anomalies, blood counts, infections etc. If the real problem is detected, treatment is started to rectify the real problem. When the problem or cause is eliminated, the dog’s heart rhythm can be brought back. But the point to note is that while most structural problems may not be easily treated the other problems that cause the murmur is fully cured.

For physiological heart murmur problems no treatment is required. It is relatively minor and in most cases gets cured on its own as the time passes. The heart murmur caused by other problems may need prolonged treatment and medications. The duration is entirely dependent on the intensity of the condition. If the cause is due to any kind of infection, then in addition to medication, dental cleaning is also required to keep the entire body system hygienic. As long as there is no threat of a cardiac failure, the treatment may be conducted as an outpatient category. Only regular visits to the vet are required and there is no need for hospitalization.

  • Instead of heavy feeding, opt for frequent smaller meals for the dog to reduce the stress on the body to both eating and digesting the amount of food. It will also help control the body weight to a point as obesity is one of the external reasons for heart murmur.
  • The dog’s diet should be heart friendly and should have antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids. The amount of salt should be low and without any chemical preservatives.
  • Make the pet to drink plenty of water to keep hydrated and to flush out the toxins.
  • Make exercise a habit, it will keep the body weight in check and makes the body fit. Swimming, running, walking all makes a good workout time for the canines.
  • Additionally dietary supplements that help with better heart health may also be given, provided you consult with your vet and got a green signal. This will help prevent any future cardiac problems.

Dog’s Heart murmur is not a serious problem but that can be serious when it is being persistent. Choose the natural way of curing if possible as the drugs can have its side effects. Do not dither to seek medical attention if any serious symptom like fainting, collapsing, or purplish gum and tongue is noted. These may be very serious. Stick to a healthy routine for the dog, this helps the body to get used to the functions and work properly.

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