Heart Murmurs In Dogs | How To Identify Them

Does your dog have a history of heart murmurs? Seeing symptoms that makes you think they may have a heart condition? Stop worrying and have your pet undergo an echocardiogram.

If your dog has a heart condition of any kind or even a heart murmur, your vet will most likely recommend an echocardiogram.

The echocardiogram is essentially an ultrasound of the heart. The ultrasound is directed at your dog’s chest to see if there is any defect or irregularities of the dog’s heart chambers.

Heart disease is an enlargement of your dog’s heart.  Your dog’s heart will have trouble pumping blood.  If left untreated, your dog’s heart could stop and lead to his death.

Heart disease can be a congenital disease from birth or something that your dog has developed over time.

Other Issues That Can Affect Your Dog’s Heart

  • Age
  • Your dog is anemic or another undetected illness
  • Heartworm disease

Breeds That Are More Prone To Heart Disease

  • Boxers
  • Dobermans
  • Cavalier and King Charles Spaniard
  • Poodles

If you have a dog of any of these breeds, it’s always best to screen your dog for heart disease at 5 to 6 years old.

Symptoms Of Heart Murmurs

  • Coughing
  • Dog is weak
  • Inability to walk for long or exercise
  • Irregular breathing
  • Gums are bluish colored
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Fainting
  • Weight loss

Heart Murmurs in Dogs

heart murmur in dogsA heart murmur is usually detected when you take your dog to the vet for a check-up. A simple stethoscope exam can allow the vet to not only hear the murmur, but also the degree of how loud the murmur is.

A grade 1 murmur is the softest sounding murmur while a grade 6 is loud and alarming. The louder the murmur, the more severe the heart disease.

If a puppy has a mild heart murmur, your vet will need to continually monitor the murmur throughout the puppy’s life.

If the murmur is on the higher end of the spectrum (3 to 6), a veterinary cardiologist will need to further exam your puppy.

Any puppy or dog with a heart murmur will typically to have an echocardiogram performed.

Why Is An Echocardiogram Necessary?

An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the dog’s heart. It can detect an irregular heartbeat or the start of congenital heart disease.

An echocardiogram produces sound waves that your vet or specialist can see the heart in full on a screen.

The procedure takes 15 to 40 minutes and your vet will have a prognosis right after the test is finished.  The test only focuses on the heart, not the lungs.

What Does An Echocardiogram Reveal?

Echocardiograms can help not only the function and structure of the heart but can also help to determine the following:

Average Cost Of An Echocardiogram

The cost of an echocardiogram can range anywhere from $250 to $450 but this cost will vary depending on where you live and what vet hospital you take your dog to.

And, of course, if you have pet insurance, most of the cost will be covered.

The vet exam fee for the procedure can add another $100 depending on where you take your dog.

An echocardiogram is not painful for your pup and there is no medication needed before or after the test.

Other Factors That Can Affect The Price Of The Echocardiogram

  • Geographical Location: If you live in a big city like Los Angeles, the cost is typically higher. But, conversely, if you live in an area where echocardiograms are not available in the local vet clinics, you also could pay more.
  • The Veterinarian Used: The cost of the veterinarian or specialist will depend on each particular one.
  • The Type Of Echocardiogram Used: The more modern the equipment, the higher the price.
  • If Anesthesia Is Necessary: For the most part, anesthesia is not used but if your dog is uncooperative or too agitated to sit still, the vet will probably use anesthesia or a sedative to properly perform the echocardiogram.
  • Emergency Situation: If the test is needed in an emergency and after hours, the costs could be higher.

What Happens After The Echocardiogram Is Performed?

Depending on the results of the echocardiogram, there are a couple of ways to treat the condition.

Treatment

If a dog does not have congenital heart disease and only a murmur, there usually will not be any treatment.  However, further routine radiographs will be taken at subsequent vet visits.

If a dog is diagnosed with a congenital heart defect early in the pups’ life, a cardiac surgeon might be able to repair the irregularity.

By narrowing the artery to lung and using a stent can help increase blood flow and help the heart pump normally.  This, of course, will need to be performed by a cardiac specialist.

Diuretics are sometimes recommended for heart disease. Diuretics help with the removal of excessive fluid in the lungs which will help restore your dog’s breathing to a normal level.  If your dog is on diuretics as a long-term treatment, you will need to see your vet regularly for follow up blood work.

Enzyme blockers and other prescribed drugs can also be used to treat congenital heart disease depending on the cause and severity.

Management

The most important way to help a dog with a heart murmur is to keep the dog lean and healthy. Any excessive weight can exacerbate the heart disease and subsequent symptoms.

Moderate exercise is also necessary but is usually advised to keep the activity at a low key level.

Diet

A dog with congestive heart failure needs to be fed a diet low in sodium.  Salt increases water retention and fluid accumulation around the heart.  Most vets will recommend a prescribed food.

A good protein level is important and omega fatty acids can help the dog’s heart and keep the weight down.

Can You Get Pet Insurance If Your Dog Has Heart Murmurs

If your dog has congenital heart disease or if your dog is one of the breeds that is pre-disposed to it, pet insurance can help save thousands of dollars.

With all the testing, follow-ups and potential surgery, the treatment can range anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000 depending on the severity of the condition.

Heart murmurs and heart disease are a life-long illness and pet insurance can save up to 90% of the bills and the prescribed food (or an allowance towards it).

Healthy Paws is just one of the great pet insurance companies that will cover congenital heart conditions.

Make sure that your policy covers congenital conditions and that you get the pet insurance before the heart disease appears.

If you have one of the breeds that have the potential for heart disease, test your dog early in his or her life.

It’s easier to slow the progression of the disease than it is for your dog to completely recover from heart failure.

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