What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the heart? A cute heart sign? Collecting a jar of them? A complex organ that keeps us alive? Sadly. the average vet thinks of heart murmurs. We’re just nerdy like that.
Heart murmurs are one of the simple things we can detect during our physical examination that can be an important red flag. That’s why we’re careful to listen to the heart at every consultation.
What is Heart Murmur?
Normally, when we listen to the heart through a stethoscope, we hear a rhythmic lub-dub lub-dub of the heart. This is the sound we hear when the heart valves close. These valves are very important to ensure that the blood flows in the correct direction through the heart. In an animal with a heart murmur, instead of a nice lub-dub, we hear swoosh-dub or dub-swoosh or swoosh–swoosh. This abnormal sound we hear is what we call a heart murmur. This is completely different to heart arrhythmias, where the heart beats in an irregular beat. One can have both heart murmur and arrhythmia.
What Causes Heart Murmur?
The abnormal swooshing noise is caused by turbulence in blood flow. As you can imagine, many things can cause the blood to become turbulent in the heart – really thin blood, abnormal structures that shouldn’t be there, defective heart valves, to name a few.
Some of them are bad for the furbabies while some of them are normal and do not cause any harm.
So my furbaby has a murmur. What should I do with it?
There are many things to be done about heart murmurs. Because heart murmurs can often have serious implications, we always like to have a plan of attack.
If, for example, your furbaby is actually a baby and the heart murmur was diagnosed incidentally at the time of his/her first check up, your veterinarian may recommend monitoring and rechecking the heart murmur at the next vaccination check up time. However, if your furbaby is 13 years old and has other clinical signs such as coughing and exercise intolerance, we might recommend performing x-ray and blood test as a start to learn more about what is going on. Sometimes, further testing such as echogram (heart ultrasound) may be indicated before we can come to a definitive conclusion on what’s going on with the heart.
As you may have gathered by now, heart murmur in itself is not a disease – it’s a symptom. Treatment is based on what is causing the heart murmur. If it’s an innocent heart murmur with no serious implications, there is a high chance that no treatment is required. However, if it is secondary to a more sinister disease such as heart valve disease, we may need to start your furbaby on some heart medication(s) and continue monitoring their progress.
This is just a tip of the iceberg overview of heart murmur. It can be quite complicated. It is very important to treat furbabies with heart conditions timely to ensure they live a long and happy life. So don’t be afraid to ask your veterinarian any questions! They are best equipped at answering any of your questions