Heart Murmurs in Pets

Learning that your dog or cat has a heart murmur can be frightening for any pet owner. However, understanding exactly what causes a heart murmur will help you understand the next steps to take for your pet.

  • A heart murmur is an abnormal swishing noise in your pet’s heart
  • It is diagnosed by your veterinarian or by using a stethoscope
  • The loudness of the heart murmur does not always correlate with the severity of the heart disease

If your pet is diagnosed with a heart murmur, there is no reason to panic. Some soft heart murmurs are benign or harmless and may go away on their own, particularly in puppies and kittens. The only way to know the extent of your pet’s condition is to work with your veterinarian to determine the cause of the murmur and the potential severity of the heart disease. Additional diagnostic testing may be required.

What might cause a heart murmur in pets?

Some of the common causes of heart murmurs in dogs and cats include:

  • Leaky heart valves secondary to age (most common in small breed dogs)
  • Thickening of the heart muscle (most common in cats)
  • Weakening of the heart muscle (most common in large breed dogs)
  • Congenital (born with at day 1) heart defects in puppies and kittens

There are many different types of heart defects. Some can be concerning, and others require no treatment at all.  Not all dogs and cats diagnosed with a heart murmur have symptoms.  And not all dogs and cats that suffer from heart disease have a heart murmur. Therefore, your veterinarian will use your pet’s physical exam findings and history to decide when and which additional tests or treatments are required.

How is heart disease diagnosed?

If your pet has a heart murmur then diagnostic testing should be performed, which may include chest x-rays, blood pressure monitoring, and an echocardiogram (ultrasound). This will allow us to detect heart enlargement. There is also a blood test that can be done to check for heart muscle damage. Once the heart is enlarged, medication will be prescribed which will prolong your pet’s life.

How are heart murmurs treated?

Heart murmurs usually cannot be cured, unless they are caused by some reversible underlying problem such as hyperthyroidism.  In most cases, the goal is to manage the issues associated with heart disease related to the murmur. Some dogs and cats with heart murmurs may live normal lives and never require treatment. Other pets with more severe heart disease will benefit significantly from treatment with oral medications.  Surgery is not a typical option in veterinary cardiology except for a few congenital heart defects that can be fixed by an operation. The treatment plan for your pet will be designed to improve your pet’s quality of life as well as extend the time you have together. Keep in mind that a heart murmur is only a clinical finding – not an absolute diagnosis of disease in your pet.