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golden retriever getting heart checked by veterinarian using stethoscope

Heart Murmurs: Understanding, Detecting, and Caring for Your Pet’s Cardiovascular Health

As pet parents ourselves and lovers of all animals, we often pride ourselves on being tuned in to our pet’s welfare and happiness. Even the slightest change in their behavior, appetite, routine, or energy levels can wave some red flags. Though we are vigilant to be able to detect when something is wrong, some health concerns—like the presence of a heart murmur—can elude even the most diligent pet parent. In honor of American Heart Month, we focused February’s blog on cardiovascular health and how a heart murmur may affect our pets, symptoms associated with this condition, and what you can do as stewards of your pet’s comfort and happiness.

Heart Murmurs 101 

Heart murmurs are not uncommon in dogs and cats, but understanding what they entail, potential causes, and how they affect our pet’s health is important. According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, a heart murmur “adds an extra sound to a heartbeat – introducing a whooshing noise that your veterinarian can hear when they listen to [the] heart.”

These abnormal heart sounds are rated on a scale of 1 (mild) to 5 (strong). The range in detectability and strength varies and early detection is key to finding out the cause and working on a treatment plan.

The presence of a heart murmur can lead to the following symptoms:

  • Abnormal breathing patterns (rapid or labored breathing)
  • Coughing
  • Collapsing episodes
  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Pale gums
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss

A Clear Diagnosis

Primary care veterinarians catch most heart murmurs during routine wellness exams. Using a stethoscope to listen to the heart, they will make note of any irregularities in the rhythm. Your primary care veterinarian may also use other methods to check on your pet’s heart such as an echocardiogram (ultrasound) or x-rays to further evaluate the structure and function of the heart.

With a clear diagnosis, pet parents will have the information and guidance they need to take control of their pet’s cardiovascular well-being.

Depending on how your pet acquired the heart murmur—whether congenital (present at birth) or through a form of heart disease—treatment options may include dietary modifications, medication, lifestyle adjustments, or surgical intervention.

Dental Health Impacts Heart Health

In February, we also honor Pet Dental Health Month. Poor dental and oral health can lead to heart issues and exacerbate cardiovascular concerns that are already present. The link between the two is primarily attributed to the spread of bacteria through the bloodstream from the mouth to other parts of the body—including the heart. This is no different than what humans may experience which is why regular oral hygiene is an essential part of our own wellness activities.

With routine cleanings and x-rays, your primary care veterinarian can ensure any oral concerns don’t become problematic and lead to further issues down the road. If your pet requires more advanced care, they can also refer you to a board-certified veterinary dentist.

We Are Here for Your Pet

At AEHV, we can do more for our patients than most veterinary ERs by providing care beyond the typical illness or injury. That means we can perform special procedures and diagnostic tests like ultrasound and echocardiography to assess the health of your pet’s heart, as well as complete blood panels and chemistries.

If you have any questions regarding your pet’s heart health or believe they may be experiencing a medical emergency, please call our team at 386-252-0206.

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