Hearing the term heart murmur in the same sentence as your pet’s name seems extra scary at first, especially because of how fatal many heart diseases can be. Many people don’t immediately know what a heart murmur is. A heart murmur is caused by quick blood flow and is only heard when listening to the heart with a stethoscope. It can be a side effect from hyperthyroidism (excessive amounts of thyroid hormones), high blood pressure, or defects and deficiencies in the heart walls or valves. Heart murmurs are not always as scary as the name leads us to believe but are still important to be aware of.
There is a grading scale for heart murmurs in pets.
Jack, age 13, has a mild heart murmur.
A vet may classify a heart murmur as such: grade 1, the least worrisome which is found by a faint sound heard with a stethoscope by a vet. Grade 2 is a soft and readily detectable sound. Grade 3 is louder than the previous and is not associated with a palpable thrill. Grade 4 is easily detectable by a vet. Heart murmur grade 5 is very loud and grade 6 is extremely loud respectively.
Grades 4-6 may be accompanied by a vibration that can be felt through the skin, according to MedVet but can be more easily evaluated by a vet, and assessed for treatment or care. Small and medium breed dogs are more prone to heart murmurs, in addition to dogs that are over 7 years old. A wide variety of cats can develop heart murmurs.
Stitch, age 11, has a Grade 3/4 heart murmur.
Don’t worry immediately if a heart murmur is heard by your vet, as many cats and dogs can live long and healthy lives with one. Your local, trusted vet can tell you more about your pet’s heart murmur and explain if it is something to be concerned about. However, it is often to investigate the cause of a heart murmur as pets with heart disease might need medication, exams, blood tests, or echocardiograms.
However, every animal shows signs of illness differently and therefore not all pets with heart conditions show outward signs. Be sure to watch out for signs like difficulty breathing, weight loss, excessive coughing, lethargy, or appetite loss. If any of these signs are showing or worsening, it is important to consult with your vet.
A vet team can help diagnose and treat heart murmurs in addition to other congenital heart conditions in both cats and dogs. They ensure that treatments can be started as soon as possible to help.
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You can learn more about heart murmurs on the VCA Hospital website or from your local vet.