It is not uncommon for a vet to find evidence of a heart murmur in dogs.
There are a lot of possible reasons that your puppy or dog might have a heart murmur, and it is understandable to be concerned as an owner when your vet finds one.
In this article we are going to look at what a heart murmur actually is, some possible reasons your puppy or dog may have a heart murmur, and what you and your vet can do to help them if required.
Canine Heart Health
Your Labrador’s heart is an amazing muscular pump consisting of four chambers.
When your vet listens to a dog’s heart, it makes a series of sounds.
These sounds represent the blood being moved through the heart as the muscle beats or contracts.
A healthy heart makes a specific and recognisably healthy noise.
What is a heart murmur?
Your vet is trained to be able to differentiate between the sounds made by a healthy dog’s heart, and the sounds associated with potential heart problems.
When a heart is not working perfectly, the sounds it makes are distinctively different. This is due to a difference in the flow of blood through the valves creating irregular vibrations.
These sounds are sometimes referred to as murmurs.
How will my vet diagnose my dog’s heart murmur?
Your veterinarian will diagnose your dog’s initial heart murmur through his stethoscope. To establish the cause of the murmur he may need to x-ray him and conduct a variety of other tests including blood tests, ultrasound or electrocardiogram. But the original murmur sound is found just using this simple piece of equipment in your usual examination room.
To do so they will always listen to your dog’s chest with a stethoscope, as well as doing a full examination.
The murmur grading system goes from Grade I, which is barely audible through their stethoscope, to Grade VI, which is very loud through the stephoscope and produced vibrations that can be felt by putting your hands on the dog’s chest.
Your vet may also refer to ‘plateau’ murmur sounds, which simply means that the vibration is consistent. They may also say it ‘crescendos and decrescendos’ or ‘decrescendos’. This differentiates between murmurs which start soft, great more apparent and then fade again, and those which start loudly and become softer.
They will also note the location of the heart murmur.
These descriptions should not be a cause for alarm to you, they are simply a way of your vet beginning to establish what might be causing the murmur to happen.
Some heart murmurs are associated with diseases and may resolve when the disease is treated.
Some are associated with disorders of the heart itself. Others are associated with immaturity of the circulatory system and may resolve as the puppy grows up.
Heart Murmur in Puppies
Most of you will have visited your vet soon after collecting your new Labrador puppy.
It is very common for new puppy owners to be told that their puppy has a heart murmur.
And a puppy heart murmur sounds scary, in most cases it is nothing to worry about.
These are simply as a result of the puppy having a developing circulatory system pumping his blood around his body.
Should I worry about my puppy’s heart murmur?
Heart murmurs in puppies are not at all uncommon. And many fall into the bracket of ‘immature hearts’ and will resolve in time.
We usually call these ‘innocent’ murmurs and many puppies have them, especially in the larger breeds.
It can still be a worry to be told that your puppy has a heart murmur, and you are bound to be concerned. But in all probability he will be just fine.
What will happen to my puppy with a heart murmur?
As your vet if he thinks the murmur is innocent. If he does, then you’ll just need to pop back with the puppy for a check up in a few weeks. Innocent heart murmurs usually disappear by the time your pup is 4 or 5 months old.
Your vet probably won’t be able to hear the murmur any more at the next exam or the one after.
However, sometimes a puppy’s heart murmur can be indicative of a problem with their heart. This can also be the case with adult Labradors too. So let’s have a look at some common Labrador health issues which could cause a heart murmur.
Potential Causes of a Heart Murmur in Dogs
There are a huge range of conditions that can cause a heart murmur in dogs.
If your dog has a heart murmur, this is not in itself his ‘condition’. Rather the heart murmur is a symptom of another condition that your dog is suffering from.
This other condition is causing the blood flow in the heart to be disturbed, either because it is changing the blood flow through the valves or because it has damaged the valves or heart chambers themselves.
These disturbances in blood flow can be caused by a lot of different conditions, but some of the most common ones are
- Anaemia – Low level of red blood cells
- Aortic stenosis – A narrowing of the valves, causing the heart to have to pump harder
- Cardiomyopathy – Disease causing the weakening of the muscle of the heart’s ventricles
- Conjestive heart failure – usually accompanied by a cough, shortness of breath and lethargy
- Fever – having a raised temperature can temporarily cause a heart murmur to be found
- Heartworm – a parasitic roundworm
- Hyperthyroidism – an over active thyroid
- Hypoproteinemia – Low level of protein in the blood
- Mitral valve prolapse – the heart valve is not closing properly and allowing blood to flow the wrong way
- Pregnancy – Short term stress put on the heart causing the irregularity
- Pulmonic stenosis – A narrowing of the valves, causing the heart to have to pump harder
- Tricuspid reguritation – the heart valve is not closing properly and allowing blood to flow the wrong way
- Ventricular septal defect – a hole in the wall that seperates the left and right ventricles of the heart
As you can see, there are quite a range of possibilities, but most of them come down to problems with the heart itself or the blood flowing through it.
How will my dog’s heart murmur be treated?
The treatment your dog will receive will depend upon the cause of his heart murmur.
Some heart murmurs require no treatment at all, as they are not actually doing them any harm.
In these cases the vet will simply want you to bring your dog in for regular checkups to make sure that the situation is not changing.
If your puppy continues to have a heart murmur, or your older dog is diagnosed with one that has an underlying cause that could impact their health, you will need to follow your veterinarians advise regarding medication and ongoing treatment depending upon the cause.
If your vet gives you a diagnosis, I recommend reading up as much about that specific cause as possible.
Don’t be afraid to ask your veterinarian lots of questions, and if you are concerned then remember it is always okay to politely seek a second opinion elsewhere.
But remember, your vet wants to see your dog stay healthy. Follow his advice and recommendations for care, and hopefully he will stay fit and well for many years to come.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website