Heart Murmurs in Dogs


Bryan Huynh

- Updated February 22, 2024

Key Takeaways

  1. A heart murmur in dogs is an abnormal sound produced during a heartbeat, often detected by a veterinarian.
  2. Heart murmurs can be benign or indicative of an underlying heart condition.
  3. Common causes of heart murmurs in dogs include valve disorders, congenital defects, and heart disease.
  4. The severity of a heart murmur is graded on a scale, with higher grades indicating more significant abnormalities.
Heart Murmurs in Dogs

In the realm of canine health, understanding and monitoring heart murmurs are pivotal responsibilities for every devoted dog owner. Heart murmurs in dogs refer to abnormal sounds heard during a heartbeat, often detected by veterinarians during routine examinations. These murmurs can range from innocent (benign) to indicative of underlying heart conditions, making their recognition and evaluation of paramount importance.

While heart murmurs can affect dogs of any age or breed, certain factors like genetics and age may increase the risk. Regular veterinary check-ups are key, as they provide opportunities for early detection and intervention. Additionally, pet insurance can offer financial support, easing the burden of diagnostic tests and treatments, ensuring that our furry companions receive the care they deserve. In this journey of exploration, we delve into the intricacies of heart murmurs in dogs, covering everything from their causes and signs to diagnosis, treatment, and prevention, empowering dog owners to safeguard their beloved pets' cardiac health.

Understanding Heart Murmurs

Heart murmurs in dogs are intriguing but potentially concerning sounds that can be detected during a veterinarian's examination. These murmurs are essentially abnormal auditory phenomena that occur during a dog's heartbeat. Imagine a gentle swishing or whooshing sound, akin to the rustle of leaves in the breeze. These murmurs arise due to turbulent blood flow within the heart or blood vessels. In essence, they signal that something isn't quite as smooth as it should be within the dog's cardiovascular system. Heart murmurs can have various underlying causes, and understanding them is crucial to ensuring the best care for your furry friend.

The causes of heart murmurs in dogs are as diverse as the breeds themselves. These murmurs may originate from a range of factors, including congenital heart defects, valve disorders, heart disease, or structural abnormalities within the heart. It's essential to recognize that the specific cause can vary from one dog to another, making it vital for veterinarians to delve deeper into diagnostic processes. A comprehensive evaluation is often required to pinpoint the precise cause of the heart murmur in order to provide tailored care for the affected dog.

To further our understanding of heart murmurs and their significance, veterinarians employ a grading system. This scale, typically ranging from grade I (mild) to grade VI (severe), helps quantify the loudness and characteristics of the murmur. Each grade conveys valuable information about the nature of the condition. For instance, a grade I or II heart murmur is often considered innocent or benign, while higher grades (IV to VI) tend to be more indicative of underlying heart conditions or diseases.

The grade assigned to a heart murmur plays a pivotal role in the diagnostic process. It aids veterinarians in determining the urgency of further diagnostic tests and the most appropriate treatment plan for the affected dog. Lower-grade murmurs may warrant watchful waiting and periodic check-ups, while higher-grade murmurs demand more immediate attention. Understanding the significance of these grades empowers dog owners and veterinarians alike to make informed decisions about the care and management of dogs with heart murmurs. It is this collaboration between pet owners and healthcare providers that ensures the best possible outcomes for our beloved canine companions.

Common Symptoms and Signs

Detecting signs of heart murmurs in dogs is a critical aspect of responsible pet ownership. One of the most telling signs is the presence of an audible murmur, a swishing or whooshing sound, heard by a veterinarian during a routine physical examination. It's important to note that heart murmurs are not typically noticeable to dog owners without the aid of a stethoscope. Additionally, changes in heart rate, such as an irregular or abnormally fast heartbeat, may accompany the presence of a heart murmur. Veterinarians rely on these auditory and cardiac indicators to assess the nature and potential severity of the condition.

Heart murmurs in dogs can manifest in various ways, and understanding the associated symptoms is crucial for early detection and intervention. One common symptom is coughing, particularly during physical activity or at night. This cough may stem from congestive heart failure, a condition where the heart struggles to pump blood effectively. Another symptom to watch for is difficulty breathing, often observed as rapid or labored breathing, especially after minimal exertion. Exercise intolerance is another red flag, as dogs with heart murmurs may tire quickly during physical activities they once enjoyed. Recognizing these symptoms can prompt timely veterinary evaluation, allowing for the earliest possible diagnosis and management of heart murmurs, ultimately ensuring the best quality of life for our canine companions.

Diagnosing Heart Murmurs

Diagnosing heart murmurs in dogs begins with a thorough physical examination conducted by a skilled veterinarian. During this examination, the veterinarian utilizes their expertise and specific tools to assess the dog's cardiac health. One key diagnostic tool is auscultation with a stethoscope, allowing the veterinarian to listen closely to the dog's heartbeat. This careful listening helps detect the distinctive swishing or whooshing sounds associated with heart murmurs. Palpation, or feeling the dog's chest, also aids in evaluating the heart's rhythm and any potential abnormalities. These initial steps are pivotal in identifying the presence of a heart murmur.

Confirming the diagnosis and determining the nature and severity of heart murmurs often requires further diagnostic tests. Chest X-rays provide valuable insights into the dog's heart and lungs, revealing any structural abnormalities or signs of heart enlargement. Echocardiography, an ultrasound of the heart, offers a detailed visualization of the heart's structures and function. Electrocardiography (ECG) records the electrical activity of the heart, helping to identify irregular heart rhythms. These diagnostic tests are instrumental in providing a comprehensive understanding of the condition, allowing veterinarians to tailor treatment plans to the specific needs of the dog.

Early diagnosis of heart murmurs is of paramount importance in ensuring the best possible outcome for affected dogs. Detecting murmurs during routine veterinary check-ups allows for prompt intervention, potentially preventing the progression of underlying heart conditions. Timely diagnosis not only helps manage symptoms effectively but also enhances the quality of life for dogs living with heart murmurs. It is through these proactive measures that dog owners and veterinarians can work together to provide the highest level of care and support for their furry companions.

Common Causes of Heart Murmurs

Heart murmurs in dogs can stem from a variety of underlying causes, each requiring careful consideration and diagnosis. One primary contributor is congenital heart defects, which are abnormalities present at birth. These structural issues can disrupt the normal flow of blood within the heart, leading to the development of murmurs. It's essential for breeders and owners to be aware of the potential genetic predispositions in certain breeds, emphasizing responsible breeding practices to reduce the risk of congenital heart defects.

Acquired heart diseases are another significant factor in the development of heart murmurs. Valvular disease, for example, occurs when the heart valves fail to function correctly, leading to regurgitation of blood. Cardiomyopathy, a condition affecting the heart muscle, can also result in murmurs as the heart's pumping ability is compromised. Additionally, infectious diseases can lead to inflammation of the heart's structures, contributing to murmurs.

Beyond these common causes, heart murmurs can also arise from other underlying conditions, such as anemia or hyperthyroidism, which impact the overall health of the cardiovascular system. Identifying the specific cause of a heart murmur is crucial for tailoring the appropriate treatment plan and ensuring the best care for dogs facing this cardiac challenge.

Treatment Options

When it comes to addressing heart murmurs in dogs, a combination of treatment approaches may be employed, tailored to the specific needs of each individual.

Lifestyle modifications play a pivotal role in managing heart murmurs. Dietary changes, often involving a low-sodium diet, can help reduce fluid retention and alleviate strain on the heart. Exercise restrictions may be necessary, particularly for dogs with severe heart disease, as excessive physical activity can exacerbate their condition. These modifications are geared towards enhancing the overall quality of life for affected dogs and ensuring they remain comfortable and healthy.

Medications are frequently utilized in the management of heart murmurs. Diuretics, for example, help reduce fluid buildup in the body, easing the workload on the heart. ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers are prescribed to improve heart function and control blood pressure. These medications are administered under the guidance of a veterinarian and are tailored to the specific needs of each dog.

In some cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to address the underlying cause of the heart murmur. Procedures like valve repair or replacement can correct defective heart valves, restoring normal blood flow. Balloon valvuloplasty is another surgical option that can alleviate stenosis (narrowing) of heart valves. These surgeries are typically reserved for more severe cases and are performed by skilled veterinary surgeons.

The prognosis and life expectancy of dogs with heart murmurs depend on various factors, including the cause and severity of the murmur, the dog's overall health, and the effectiveness of treatment. With appropriate care and diligent management, many dogs can lead comfortable lives and enjoy a relatively normal lifespan. Regular veterinary check-ups and ongoing monitoring are essential to track the dog's progress and adjust the treatment plan as needed, ensuring the best possible outcome for these resilient canine companions.

Monitoring and Follow-up

For dogs diagnosed with heart murmurs, ongoing monitoring and follow-up care are paramount to ensure their continued well-being and quality of life.

Regular veterinary check-ups are the cornerstone of effective management for dogs with heart murmurs. These routine examinations allow veterinarians to closely monitor the dog's cardiac health, assess the effectiveness of treatment, and make necessary adjustments. During these visits, the veterinarian may listen for changes in the heart murmur's intensity, evaluate the dog's overall condition, and perform diagnostic tests as needed. The frequency of these check-ups may vary based on the dog's specific condition and the veterinarian's recommendations.

Many dogs with heart murmurs require ongoing medication to manage their condition effectively. Ensuring that medications are administered as prescribed and on schedule is essential. Dog owners should work closely with their veterinarians to understand the purpose of each medication, potential side effects, and how to monitor for any adverse reactions. Any concerns or changes in the dog's health should be promptly reported to the veterinarian.

Lifestyle adjustments may be necessary to accommodate the dog's cardiac condition. This could involve dietary modifications, exercise restrictions, or ensuring a low-stress environment. Dog owners should follow the guidance provided by their veterinarians to create a nurturing and comfortable environment for their pets.

Being vigilant about recognizing signs of a worsening condition is crucial. Dog owners should educate themselves about the potential signs of heart failure or complications related to heart murmurs, such as increased coughing, difficulty breathing, or a decline in energy levels. Promptly reporting any concerning symptoms to the veterinarian allows for timely intervention, potentially preventing further deterioration of the dog's health.

Through these proactive measures, dog owners can play an active role in managing their pets' heart murmurs, ensuring they receive the best possible care and support throughout their lives.

Preventing Heart Murmurs

Preventing heart murmurs in dogs begins with a commitment to responsible breeding, vigilant preventative healthcare, and, when applicable, genetic testing. Breeders have a crucial role in reducing the risk of heart murmurs by carefully selecting breeding pairs based on the absence of cardiac abnormalities. Regular veterinary check-ups are essential for all dogs, allowing veterinarians to detect heart murmurs early and take necessary action. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle through proper diet, exercise, and weight management can contribute to a dog's overall cardiovascular health.

In breeds predisposed to heart conditions, genetic testing can provide valuable insights, helping breeders make informed decisions about breeding pairs and reducing the chances of passing on genetic markers associated with heart murmurs. By collectively embracing these measures, breeders and dog owners can work together to minimize the occurrence of heart murmurs and promote the cardiac well-being of our cherished canine companions.


In our exploration of heart murmurs in dogs, we've delved into crucial aspects of this cardiac condition. We've learned to recognize the signs and symptoms, understand the underlying causes, and explore the diverse treatment options available. From congenital defects to acquired heart diseases, our journey has underscored the importance of early diagnosis and vigilant monitoring.

Above all, this journey highlights the significance of responsible pet ownership and veterinary care. Regular check-ups, a balanced diet, and maintaining an active lifestyle are the cornerstones of canine health. When heart murmurs do arise, prompt veterinary attention can make all the difference in a dog's quality of life.

As dog lovers, our commitment to understanding and addressing heart murmurs is a testament to the love and care we extend to our furry companions. By staying informed and proactive, we can ensure that every dog receives the best possible care, safeguarding their heart health and cherishing the joy they bring into our lives.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a heart murmur in dogs?

A heart murmur in dogs is an abnormal sound heard during a heartbeat, often detected by veterinarians using a stethoscope. It can indicate turbulent blood flow within the heart or blood vessels.

Are all heart murmurs in dogs a cause for concern?

No, not all heart murmurs are concerning. Some are innocent or benign, while others may signify underlying heart conditions. The severity and nature of the murmur determine its significance.

What are the common symptoms of heart murmurs in dogs?

Common symptoms include coughing, difficulty breathing, exercise intolerance, and changes in heart rate. However, some dogs may not exhibit any symptoms.

Can heart murmurs be prevented in dogs?

While not all heart murmurs can be prevented, responsible breeding practices, regular veterinary check-ups, and a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk and promote heart health.

How are heart murmurs diagnosed in dogs?

Veterinarians diagnose heart murmurs through physical examinations, including auscultation with a stethoscope. Diagnostic tests like X-rays, echocardiography (ultrasound), and electrocardiography (ECG) may also be used.

What are the treatment options for dogs with heart murmurs?

Treatment may include lifestyle modifications, medications (diuretics, ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers), and, in severe cases, surgical intervention (valve repair or replacement). The specific treatment plan depends on the dog's condition.

Can dogs with heart murmurs have a normal life expectancy?

With proper management and treatment, many dogs with heart murmurs can lead comfortable lives and enjoy a relatively normal lifespan. The prognosis varies depending on the cause and severity of the murmur.

Is genetic testing available for heart murmurs in dogs?

Genetic testing is available for certain heart conditions in specific breeds. It can help breeders make informed decisions and reduce the risk of passing on genetic predispositions.

About The Author

Bryan Huynh

Bryan Huynh

Product Tester & Writer

Bryan Huynh is a dedicated Product Tester & Writer. Just as insurance has your back, Bryan works to review and inform you about the wide range of insurance products available, ranging from business, auto, health, home, pet, to life insurance.

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