Doggy Heart Murmur

Updated on June 07, 2010
R.M. asks from Spring Hill, TN
9 answers

Our 14 yr old terrier mix has had a heart murmur for a couple years. It makes her sort of cough and choke when she gets excited. Lately it seems to be getting worse. At the time that it was diagnosed we put her on special food for a while, but she dropped some weight and started doing better and we were able to take her off of it. The only other thing the vet could do for her was to put her under anesthesia and give her an EKG. After he explained the only purpose for the EKG was to get a baseline reading to be able to see how much worse it is getting as time goes on (with more EKG's), I nixed that idea. We couldn't afford it and I saw no reason to sedate the dog just to be told "Yep, she has a heart murmur". It wasn't going to do anything for her treatment-wise.

So now that it seems to be bothering her again, I am wondering if anyone else has dealt with a heart murmur in dogs. What else is there to do for them besides diet? I am not sure I really want to get into surgical options on a dog her age. How do you know if the dog is suffering? IS there any reason for the EKG that I just don't know about? Is this going to be what she dies of? I just really don't want her to be suffering and sick. I've known for a while that she probably wouldn't live much longer. I am NOT in any hurry to put her down, I don't want it to sound like that. But I don't want her to be hurting and I don't even realize it. She is overall pretty happy, just coughs and gags every so often now.

Thanks for anything you can tell me or advise you can give me, I appreciate it!

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So What Happened?

Thanks for all the info and advice, it was very helpful. I will be taking her in to see the doc soon, I plan to call tomorrow. Even since my post she has been coughing more and starting to seem kind of unhappy from the coughing. I am not sure why the vet wanted to do the ekg sedated (the sedation was a big part of the too expensive issue), my husband took her to the appointment and filled me in when he got home. And he didn't explain any of those reasons to do an ekg that you all listed. My dealings with the vet were always that he wasn't very personable and didnt communicate well, so maybe it was just that coupled with my hubby and his typical guy story telling skills (non-existent-lol). we have a new vet now (closer to home) and he didn't say anything about the murmur other than to agree she had one, but the coughing wasn't this progressed a couple months ago when he saw her. I will see what this new vet advises about treatment. I agree with the thought that she is pretty old and too much intervention wouldn't necessarily be best for her. Thanks again, and wish me luck in my talks with the vet.

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answers from Louisville on

my cockapoo had the same problem. we didnt treat it really b/c their wasnt much to do for it she lived to be about 9. however she did pass away from a heart attack. you will know when its time if she seems happy then dont worry but if she starts to suffer its time to put her down. its so hard to do i know but you really dont want them to suffer. I had my baby put down after 17 years and i still cant talk about him with out crying... this was 2 years ago they really are part of the family!

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answers from State College on

Some heart murmurs do not affect the pet and some do and of course they can go from nothing to something. The EKG can be done awake sometimes, if the pet is very calm, other times it can sometimes be hard to read and they may need to lay on their side. Sometimes it can tell you where the beat is changing. Ultrasounds, are a little pricey, but can tell you a lot of information about how the heart looks, where any leakage and backflow is coming from, etc. X-rays can also tell you if the heart is enlarged of there is fluid around the heart. Both can usually be done with an awake dog, but at the same time they won't want to stress her if she doesn't want to lay down on her side and back.

If she goes into heart failure there are many meds that can really prolong life and keep the pet comfortable- vetmedin, enalapril, and lasix to name a few. Vetmedin can only be used when they are in heart failure. If she still just has a murmur meds may not help or be worth giving and for some kinds of murmurs they are not necessary. We had a cat with one that was new when he was older, ultrasound was done and there was no need for meds at that time. About a year later he started having more problems, not all heart related and dying. He was older and it was expected at the time that he didn't have a ton of time left and he was starting to look older, but still got around and was happy.

Right now it doesn't sound like she is suffering, but watch for change in activity, eating, drinking habits, secluding herself, more coughing. If you see any changes of course talk to your vet and see what your options are now and if you there are changes. Good luck to you and hope she still has several years to go :)

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answers from Boise on

Magnesium can treat heart issues.

Some heart disease prescriptions are calcium channel blockers- well, magnesium is a natural calcium channel blocker.

The dose for humans is magnesium malate 500mg or more. Ask your vet how you can give mag to the dog. Youd have to get an appropriate dosed pill. You can even put in on the skin(magnesium chloride) and it is absorbed cellularly. I spray magnesium chloride on our skin and let it air dry.

Heart disease can happen when there is too much calcium and not enough magnesium in the diet. The calcium gets deposited into soft tissues of heart, lung, kidney, arteries.

Heart disease can also be caused by bacteria, fungus, or parasites.
read the link:

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answers from Raleigh on

First of all I have 4 dogs and a cat. I have also had to make the decision to put down a very special cat so I understand where you are coming from. I have also worked at a vet so I have been on both sides of this question. Honestly I would not do anything more than pain management for a 14 year old dog. At that point anything that you would do "may" extend life. The operative word is may. The other side of that is recovery. If you did surgery or another option the dog would take a few weeks of time to recover from that. If the surgery extends life by a few weeks it might not be good weeks and the dog will have the pain and trauma of surgery to deal with. At this point enjoy your dog and make some good memories. Don't worry about the end your dog will let you know when it is time to let go and you can be happy when you decide to let her last moments be comfortable as she drifts off.

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answers from Nashville on

Our 15 year old Dachshund/Terrier mix has a heart murmur as well. Our vet told us that her coughing would worsen over time but there are medications she can take to help. Poor little thing already takes meds for epilepsy but is happy and still playful. Talk to another vet if they offer no solutions.

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answers from Charlotte on

I went through the same thing with my 14 year old terrier mix the past year. She was diagnosed with a heart murmur when she was about 12. At 13, she had a episode where she was coughing, gasping for air, and fainting. After rushing her to the vet and some tests, it was determined that this was due to her heart. We were able to manage her health very well for about a year on medication. She took 2 different pills 2 times a day (eventually maxing out on the dosage). Her main issue was fainting if she got too excited, which is hard for a terrier. We did have the tests done just because we really were not sure what was causing the fainting (thought maybe it was neurological) but in your case you seem to know what is going on so I could understand not going that route. After about a year, she started to develop a lot of fluid around her lungs due to her weak heart. We drained it once, but the vet told us that this would only help her for a short time. I can say without a doubt that up until that point, she had a good quality of life and was happy. We could take her on short, slow walks and she still had some "spunk" in her. But after the first of this year, we noticed that she just did not look happy anymore,she could barely get up and down the stairs, etc. and we knew that it was time. So, I think that you will know. The main thing is that the dog still has a good quality of life and our vet did a great job of helping us through this difficult time.
You know your dog better than anyone, so go with what you feel. I wish you the best -if there is anything you need to ask that I can help with, let me know.
I also found the ASPCA website very helpful. They have a lot of good articles on these types of issues.

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answers from Des Moines on

We have an 8-year old Beagle that has an enlarged heart. And she does just the same thing your dog does...coughing and gaging. We have only had Molly for 2 years and our vet told us that it is common and that she is in great health. I walk her all the time(sometimes maybe a little longer than she would like:) and she eats pretty good. So, I really don't think there's anything to worry about. You are going to know when your pup is hurting. You can just tell. I've been thru 2 dogs that both had cancer and you just know when they are in me. And the fact that she has been living with this for this long and is 14 is a pretty good sign that your pup is doing ok.

Good luck!! Kim

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answers from Dallas on

Not sure why your vet would need to sedate you pet for an EKG - this is an electrocardiogram and is a simple procedure usually involving using metal clips attached a certain areas and a reading is taken to measure the electrical impulses of the heart. Overall this can be an inexpensive procedure - I have never seen it charged more than $30. While it does give a base reading of the heart waves it can tell sometimes where in the heart beat something is going awry. The better diagnostic tools include radiographs which measure the size of the heart or an echocardiogram (sonogram) to see what the heart is actually doing in motion (neither would require sedation usually - you don't want to sedate because it alters the activity of the heart and doesn't give good reading) These can have some significant costs associated with them. As far as the cough - usually this only occurs when the pet is starting to develop congestive heart failure and there are medications that can be given to relieve the symptoms but you really need more diagnostics done to determine the severity of the heart disease. Pets can go on ACE inhibitors and Diuretics for heart disease just like humans, which can significantly increase their life expectancy. It is really your decision as to how you want to pursue the condition being that your dog is 14 years old. Diet can help manage the heart disease - low sodium, low protein usually but doesn't really slow down the progression and usually is a longterm, lifelong thing. For progression of heart disease the main thing to watch for is quality of life - how active is the pet (do they still play and seem happy); how bad is exercise intolerance; how often are they coughing and are they coughing so much they vomit; you should really discuss this more in detail with your vet to determine the best course of action.

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answers from Minneapolis on

Just last week I lost a 17 1/2 year old Jack Russell. It was probably either his heart that gave out and/or a stroke. He was diagnosed with a heart murmur at age 15-16. Perhaps b/c of his age (I don't remember), we weren't really given any treatment options. We were told that he was no longer a candidate for anesthesia. I was told to watch for symptoms like coughing. He never did develop the coughing, although at times he had heavy breathing. We were also told they come in different grades. I think when he was first diagnosed he was a "grade 2," but it had progressed by the time of his last check up in March. Now that I think back on it, they might have told me that there was a medication they could give him for his comfort if he developed the coughing. On his last day, he went down hill pretty rapidly, starting fairly normal in the morning, but then progressing from shaking and very heavy breathing to a near coma. We had him put to sleep then. I don't really know what to tell you, but I thought I would tell you our story. It sounds like something you should continue to discuss with your vet or if you have questions, get a second opinion for another vet. Good luck. My dog was like a family member; I know what it's like to struggle with their health issues.

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