Hearing that your new puppy has something wrong with its heart can be frightening and confusing news. Does this mean your dog’s not going to have a long life? How do you care for a congenital heart problem? How do you know when to go beyond your regular veterinarian and consult a cardiologist about a more serious condition such as a heart murmur?

A heart murmur doesn’t always mean your puppy won’t live a normal life span or that he or she has to lead a severely restricted life. Some murmurs don’t bring trouble at all. But you may need to get a specialist’s opinion to be sure.

What Causes a Heart Murmur?

Simply put, this means your pet’s heart has rapid or turbulent blood flow. Heart murmurs break down into two basic categories: “Innocent/physiologic” or “pathologic” murmurs. “Innocent” or “physiologic” ones may pose no threat and frequently clear up by themselves by the time your dog is about 4 to 6 months old. Pathologic murmurs, the ones caused by disease, indicate a structural problem in the heart. That means there is a problem with the heart – or a problem caused elsewhere in the body that affects the heart.

Your family vet will listen with a stethoscope and use certain parameters to determine whether the murmur is innocent or pathologic: how loud the murmur is, where the murmur is located and how the murmur sounds.

The answers to these questions will help determine whether you should take your puppy to a veterinary cardiologist or postpone that decision until its next appointment. For example, a quiet heart murmur that occurs when the heart contracts (a systolic murmur) will more likely be innocent than a louder murmur, which warrants sooner investigation.

What To Look for at Home

Indicators that a puppy may have a heart problem include poor tolerance of exercise, abnormal coloring in the tongue or gums, heavy breathing and/or fainting spells. If you see these signs, you’ll want to consult a veterinary cardiologist. If the puppy has difficulty breathing or has a fainting spell, take your pet to the emergency room for quick evaluation.

Certain breeds of dogs are predisposed to congenital heart defects. Congenital heart defects mean a heart defect that a puppy was born with. These include miniature poodles, bulldogs (both English and French), Labrador retrievers, Newfoundlands, bull terriers, and golden retrievers. There are many more breeds that can be affected and not all puppies of these breeds will have a problem.

If you’re purchasing a puppy from a breeder, be sure you know the parents’ health histories. Ask if the parents have heart murmurs or have produced puppies in the past that had heart murmurs. If so, it’s possible for there to be a genetic component to your own puppy’s heart troubles.

How Do Vets Treat Heart Murmurs?

Heart defects in puppies commonly take one of three forms: a patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), pulmonic stenosis, and a ventricular septal defect (VSD).

A PDA creates abnormal communication between two major blood vessels, the aorta and pulmonary artery. Normally, these two vessels communicate in the womb, and that communication closes after birth. If it doesn’t, you get a PDA, which must be fixed with surgery.

Pulmonic stenosis is a condition in which the valve on the right side of the heart going out to the lungs (pulmonic valve) did not develop appropriately. It can sometimes be fused, abnormally thickened, or didn’t develop enough. For some levels of this condition, surgery can help.

VSD occurs when the septum separating the two ventricles (lower portions of the heart) doesn’t form properly. Depending on the severity of this condition, it’s possible for puppies to live a normal life span. There are some surgical options available if needed, but your veterinary cardiologist would be able to help determine if that’s necessary.

In fact, nonsurgical Intervention could be the way to go with some murmurs. That may mean long-term medication or even just serial monitoring over time.

Think of CARE is the animal equivalent of a human medical center offering many different types of treatment for pets. You can get emergency care 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, or board-certified specialty care after you obtain a referral from your primary veterinarian. Please take a visual tour of the practice at carecharlotte.com/tour.

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