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Put Your Heart Into It!

By Dr Rochelle Campbell 

You take your Miniature Schnauzer "Fluffy" to your veterinarian for her annual check up.   After listening to her chest, the veterinarian tells you that "Fluffy" has a heart murmur.   Suddenly you start to panic.   "What does this mean for her!?" you think to yourself.    Here are a few basics about heart murmurs to put your mind at ease so you can make the best medical decisions for your pet. 

A heart murmur is the sound heard on a stethoscope when blood from one heart chamber flows back into the previous chamber.  This is due to a heart valve that is faulty (ie. does not close or seal properly).   Heart murmurs are graded from one (least intense) to six (most intense).  

As a general rule of thumb, smaller dogs tend to develop heart murmurs more frequently than larger dogs, although some large dogs will develop them too.  Some breeds, including Schnauzers and King Charles Cavalier Spaniels, have a breed predilection for developing heart murmurs. 

Some dogs can live for years after an initial diagnosis of an audible heart murmur.   A dog's longevity and clinical signs will worsen significantly over time once they progress to 
A diagnosis of congestive heart failure (CHF).  Signs of CHF include coughing, difficulty breathing, fainting episodes (syncope), lethargy and/or bluish gray gum color.

After hearing a murmur, your veterinarian may recommend bloodwork, chest X-rays or even a veterinary cardiology consultation.   There are also different medications that may be prescribed over time to help slow the progression of heart disease.  

Hearing your dog has a heart murmur can be a scary thing but good communication and follow up with your veterinarian can ensure your "Fluffy" can have the best quality of life possible.