Heart murmurs in puppies, are they a death sentence?
A heart murmur detected in a 6 week old pup can be a sign of serious disease and a very short life, but not always...
I first noticed “Chelsea” while doing a locum in a busy Veterinary Practice. It was the constant high pitched puppy yap that alerted me to the tiny tan and white pup sitting in a big cage in the hospital.
The whole litter had come to the Vet for a routine check and first vaccination. It was then discovered that one pup had a heart murmur. This suggests an abnormal development of the heart. Outwardly they all appeared normal but when we listened with the stethoscope to each puppy’s heart, one had a loud “whooshing” noise with every heart beat.
Echocardiography (ultrasound of the heart) was recommended to find out exactly what was wrong with her heart but this was declined due to the costs involved and the pup was surrendered for euthanasia. Selling a puppy with an abnormality poses lots of problems. It is important to detect a heart abnormality early. There are several different abnormalities that can occur and there are subtle variations in the murmurs. The ultimate way to find out which problem this puppy had is to perform echocardiography. This is basically ultrasound of the heart and most accurately performed by a Veterinary Cardiologist.
Although I had not initially been involved with the puppy I contacted the owner to ask permission to give her a chance. I would organise to have the ultrasound examination and if the prognosis was good I would keep the pup. Ordinarily if a sick animal is presented to a Vet for euthanasia, it would be performed immediately, however, the owner agreed it would be in the pup’s best interests.
The echocardiography was good news! Chelsea was born with a defect called Pulmonic Stenosis where there is a narrowing of the pulmonic valve in her heart. Her case was classified as mild and it appeared to affect her very little. The follow up heart ultrasound at one year of age confirmed that she should have a normal life expectancy and required no medication. Others with this condition that are affected more severely will die before 3 years old.
Knowing which abnormality is present is important to predict how it will affect a pup as it grows older. Sadly, many pups with heart murmurs do not see their first birthday. However, some heart defects have minimal effect on the pup and they grow to be happy healthy dogs. One particular heart defect called Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA) will usually result in a very shortened lifespan unless a complex heart surgery is performed while they are still young.
It is important to have puppies checked and vaccinated before they are sold to avoid the heartache that goes with a new puppy owner finding their beloved pet is seriously ill. Although these pups may appear perfectly normal at 8 weeks of age do not be fooled into thinking all will be fine as most will not.
It was a risk I took when deciding to take Chelsea, and if her problem was serious and she was not a candidate for surgery then she would have been euthanased. Her desexing at 6 months old was routine, breeding from a dog with a birth abnormality would be very wrong.
Chelsea is almost 2 years old now and is healthy and active, however we do not take her on long runs. She lives in Airlie Beach with Nikki and Luke and will be coming to stay with us in May.
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