Dear Daisy Dog
The vet told us that Ginger, our 10-year-old toy poodle, has a heart murmur and needs an echocardiogram. What exactly is a heart murmur?
I developed one at about the same age, so I can explain it to you.
When a veterinarian listens to a pet’s heart with a stethoscope, each heart beat sounds like a word with two syllables: lub-dup. Any additional sound is a murmur.
Often it’s a lub-swish-dup murmur like mine. Sometimes the murmur sounds like a musical tone. Rarely, it can sound like a noisy machine shop.
Those murmurs are caused by turbulent blood flow or blood moving in an abnormal direction, like leaking backward through a faulty valve instead of flowing forward.
When the cause is a heart malformation, the murmur is usually heard in puppyhood. Murmurs acquired later in life, like Ginger’s, are often due to changes in the heart valves or walls of the heart.
Non-cardiac problems, such as anemia and dehydration, can even cause transient heart murmurs.
The echocardiogram will allow the veterinarian to peer inside Ginger’s heart, determine the cause of the murmur, and start appropriate medications.
The right heart medicines will lengthen Ginger’s life and diminish the signs of heart disease, including coughing, breathing difficulty and lack of energy.