A heart murmur indicates abnormal blood flow within the heart, which is usually due to a change in the function of the heart valves. However, a heart murmur may also be caused by abnormal communications between the right and left sides of the heart. These problems may be congenital (i.e., present from birth) or acquired (i.e., associated with diseases or age changes affecting the heart after birth). Murmurs may be benign (i.e., of no concern to your pet’s health) or they may be more serious and progressive, resulting in heart failure over time.
Signs and symptoms of heart disease often include one or all of the following symptoms: coughing, labored breathing, poor exercise ability, fainting, and a bluish tinge to the tongue or gums.
Often a thorough physical examination will allow your veterinarian to identify the source and severity of the heart murmur. However, other times more information is required and may include an EKG, chest x-rays, blood testing, or a heart ultrasound. The ultrasound is of particular benefit, giving your veterinarian the ability to actually measure and better define the extent and cause of the underlying heart disease. A specific diagnosis is essential, as some conditions resulting in heart murmurs may be treatable by surgery (i.e., congenital problems) and others may require specific types of medication.
Share your questions and concerns with your veterinarian along with additional information about your dog’s physical condition and lifestyle. He or she should be able to provide you with more specific answers to your questions. Depending on your veterinarian’s comfort level in diagnosing or treating heart conditions, you may want to discuss the possibility of having your pet evaluated by a veterinary cardiologist or internist, who, by virtue of their additional, specialty training, have added expertise in dealing with these problems.