The Reading Corner

Heart Murmur in Dogs 

Dr. Richards, Vet.


Question: Hello Dr. Richards:

Once more, I find it a great resource to have this internet service from you. The reason I'm writing concerns an 8 week old OES puppy that the vet feels may have a heart murmur and has suggested a number of possible options including submitting the pup to an EKG, all of which represent substantial costs, in order to ascertain the seriousness and type of the cause producing the murmur. As some murmurs can be rectified through early surgery the breed owner of this pup is feeling pressured to act on their suggestions immediately. My involvement in this case is as the owner of the litter's stud dog and mentor to the breeder involved, having been a successful and internationally recognized breeder of OES for 25 years.

In that time we have experienced the occasional puppy who at two months has indicated having a heart murmur but, in each case this has resolved itself on its own as the pup matures and leaving no side effects as a result. From my discussions with other breeders on this subject some have also produced pups with murmurs that do not rectify on their own yet, for the most part it seems that though the murmurs persist through the life of these dog, generally it is without any discernable ill effects to their outward health nor do they seem short changed by it either in their growth or life span.

Could you provide me with some current information relevant to heart murmurs in young pups and recommended avenues of suggested treatment or non treatment? Thank you. Toni


It is unquestionable that many murmurs that are present congenitally will never cause any problem during a dog's lifetime. We do our best to evaluate the overall situation and advise the owner based on clinical signs present. If a puppy is gaining weight normally, is active and doesn't tire readily, has a normal red blood cell count adjusted for his or her age and isn't showing any other signs of heart disease, we advise just waiting to see what happens. If there are definite clinical signs of heart disease, in addition to the murmur, we push much more strongly for advanced testing.

Since cardiac ultrasound exam is by far the most effective method of evaluating heart murmurs, I'd skip things like ECGs to get the ultrasound exam, if a choice has to be made between tests.

Hope this helps some. Mike Richards, DVM 2/10/2000

Heart murmur in puppy

Q: I have just acquired a 8 to 10 week old puppy. She is the runt of the litter and has a significant heart murmur. You can actually feel the murmur when you hold her. She seems healthy, happy and hungry. My vet has checked her and told me to come back in a week. He said that sometimes these murmurs disappear as the pup grows older. My questions are what happens if the murmur does not go away? What can I expect? Surgery? Drugs? Death? Thanks for your help. Anita.

A: Anita- Heart murmurs occur for a variety of reasons. The loudness of the murmur does not always correlate well with its seriousness. A small defect in the wall between the heart chambers may produce a very loud murmur that will not be much of a problem. On the other hand, murmur from a patent ductus arteriosus are loud in many cases and they are serious. If the murmur persists your vet will probably either recommend a work-up of the murmur at his or her hospital if possible or refer you to a cardiologist if that is necessary. It would be best to go to the cardiologist if your vet remains worried about this murmur or if your puppy is not growing normally and playing like a normal puppy. Hopefully she is OK. In that case it may be OK to adopt a "wait and see" attitude.

Mike Richards, DVM

Slight Heart murmur

Q: Dear Doctor Richards, I have a five year old Border Collie, (Goldie) she just had her yearly examination and passed with flying colors except the doctor mentioned she has a slight heart murmur. He wants to see her in six months. Could this conditioned be caused by drinking coffee which my dog does, or could it be caused from her vitamins or some outside source, ie allergies. I don't know. What I should do. Thank you for this forum ,Matthew

A: Matthew-I don't think that drinking coffee will lead to heart murmurs in dogs, nor will use of vitamins or allergies, to the best of my knowledge. If your dog seems normal in all other aspects and is negative on a heartworm exam it seems reasonable to me to wait and see what happens. Many murmurs do not cause problems.

Mike Richards, DVM

Heart murmur in Cocker

Q: We have a 2 year old male American cocker spaniel. Recently, during his yearly examination, the vet mentioned he may have a heart murmur. She suggested that we return in a month to confirm this prognosis, because at the time he was very excited. Is this a common problem in spaniels his age? Is this a problem that must be attended to, or can he live with this problem? What are some of the potential treatments? Thank you for your consideration of our questions.

A: Stephen- It can be very hard to determine if a heart murmur is present when listening to the chest of an excited dog. Respiratory sounds can mimic a heart murmur when respiration is rapid enough to approximate the heart rate. Your vet has given you good advice in that a re-exam to see if there really is a problem is the correct first step. Heart murmurs vary widely in their importance. Hearing a heart murmur in a dog that seems normal in all other respects doesn't usually make me want to pursue a lot of immediate testing to determine the cause but it does make it important for the dog owner to watch carefully for signs of heart failure, such as tiring easily, coughing, weight loss and difficulty breathing. If any of these signs are present then it is much more important to try to identify the cause. Cockers are one of the breeds in which cardiomyopathy occurs more commonly than the "average" breed. Since this is a serious problem it may be worth being a little more cautious and checking for this problem with an ultrasound exam if that is possible to arrange in your area.

Hope all is well. The first step, before worrying too much, is to be sure that a problem really exists.

Mike Richards, DVM