Dog Heart Murmur Diagnosis

Although the condition affects a small percentage of pets, a dog heart murmur is a serious health problem that requires immediate veterinary attention. Each case is different, and some heart murmurs may not significantly influence your pet's life, while others may be linked to fatal heart conditions. For this reason, adequately and promptly diagnosing a heart murmur in your pet is extremely important to his long term health. Learn to watch for the symptoms of heart murmurs, and be familiar with the techniques and procedures that veterinarians use to diagnose this condition.

Symptoms of a Canine Heart Murmur

The symptoms of your dog's heart murmur depend somewhat upon the severity of the condition itself. The most dangerous and telling symptom of heart murmurs in dogs is fainting. If your pet faints for an unknown reason, either occasionally or periodically, he may have a heart murmur that is related to a serious condition. Some of the other most common symptoms that point to a canine heart murmur include the following:

  • Unexplained lethargy
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Swelling of the limbs
  • Coughing

If you notice any of these symptoms, take your pet in to a veterinarian's office for further testing and diagnosis. These symptoms do not conclusively point to a heart murmur, and your veterinarian will have to do further analysis in order to fully diagnose the condition.

The Process of Diagnosing a Canine Heart Murmur

After evaluating your dog's symptoms, your vet will begin by listening to your dog's heartbeat with a stethoscope. This is often a strong clue of a heart murmur, although it is not a surefire guarantee of the condition. Your vet will be listening for a regular and periodic heartbeat. A healthy heart beats twice in quick succession, with groups of two beats occurring at periodic intervals. Dogs with heart murmurs tend to have a heartbeat that sounds like a steady and faint thumping sound. In some cases, it will be easy to determine the scope of the heart murmur just by listening.

If your vet still suspects that your pet has a heart murmur after listening to his heartbeat, he will order a series of tests to further analyze your pet's heart health. The most common of these tests are echocardiograms, which identify potential diseases of the heart and locate weak parts of the organ, electrocardiograms, which more carefully monitor the heartbeat, and chest x-rays. Each of these tests can be performed in a veterinarian's office, but they generally require that your dog by temporarily anesthetized for ease of maneuvering and procedure.

Based on the results of the diagnosis, your veterinarian may include additional tests to determine any related or contributing conditions, such as heart disease. Following a proper diagnosis of canine heart murmur, you can discuss with your veterinarian whether treatment is necessary. Some pets can live a healthy and normal life with a slight heart murmur, and puppies with heart murmurs tend to lose them over time. However, if the heart murmur poses a risk to your pet's health, your veterinarian may recommend heart surgery and lifestyle changes.