A whisper of the heart

Heart problems are not exclusive to the human members of our families. They are a major health problem for our pets as well. Dogs, cats, ferrets, birds and other species suffer from heart diseases.

One of the most common clinical findings, suggestive of heart disease is heart murmur.

Heart murmur is often discovered during routine physical examination. It describes an abnormality in the way the heart bit sounds when we listen to it with a stethoscope. Unlike the sharp, short bit of a normal heart, the murmur is a softer and a longer whisper. It is caused by abnormal blood flow through the heart and it indicates exactly that. The murmur is described according to its intensity grade, timing and location. Sometimes it can be so intense to be felt vibrating through the pet’s chest.

Primary heart diseases, such as congestive heart failure, congenital heart defects, systemic diseases, such as hyper active thyroid gland and circulatory or blood problems, can alter the blood flow and manifest in audible heart murmur.

Clinical signs depend on the underlined disease and may vary from none to severe shock or breathing problems. In older dogs, heart valve disease that eventually leads to congestive heart failure is common. These dogs develop progressive cough as well as heart murmur. 

In most cases, the presence of a murmur indicates some problems and warrants further investigation. Helpful diagnostic tests include blood tests to detect Heartworm disease, anemia or metabolic problems, x-rays to show the size and shape of the heart, lungs and blood vessels, ultrasounds to assess the heart structure and function and electrocardiogram to study heart rhythm problems. Depending on the age or the breed, the veterinarian can have an idea of the most likely problems. Young animals are most likely to have congenital heart anomalies, where older dogs, are likely to have heart valve diseases. Cats are prone to a group of cardiac diseases, called crdiomyopathies and to hyperthyroidism related heart disease. A heart murmur in a cat usually indicates a serious problem.

The treatment is directed towards the cause of the murmur. Functional murmurs require no treatment; whereas heart disease or systemic disease related murmurs, call for specific, appropriate therapy. Clinically healthy dogs with heart murmurs should be monitored closely and more frequently by the veterinarian. 

The prognosis depends on the nature and the severity of the underlined disease.

As we all know, regular periodic physical exams help early diagnosis and timely treatment.

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