received a letter from Andrea concerning her 1-year-old
Rottweiler named Roxanne. It seems Roxanne has a heart
murmur and Andrea wants to have her spayed. She has been
cautioned that Roxanne, because of her heart condition,
may not be able to handle an anesthetic procedure and
Andrea is concerned.
discussing this case, I think it is important to try to
explain what the words heart murmur mean and what might
be the consequences, if any, for a companion living with
of all, what is a heart murmur? A heart murmur is a
sound made within the heart due to abnormally turbulent
blood flow. This noise is sort of a "whoosh"
sound and most commonly occurs due to a leak in one or
more of the heart valves. There are other possible
causes for this sound made by this turbulent blood flow
but for our discussion here, heart valve leakage will
listen to your companion’s heart with a stethoscope to
hear the heartbeat and any abnormalities involving the
blood flow through the heart.
flows through the heart from one chamber to the next
through one way "flapper" valves. There are
four chambers and six valves. A leak in any one of these
valves can cause a murmur because the blood, instead of
flowing in the forward direction through the valve,
flows backward, creating turbulence and thus an audible
murmur. A leaking valve can be a congenital condition,
meaning it’s been present since birth or it may
develop later in life. In Roxanne’s case, I suspect a
congenital heart murmur since she is only 1 year old.
mere presence of a murmur does not imply there is heart
disease. Many companions — and humans for that matter
— are living totally normal lives with heart murmurs
of no consequence. This is not to say that a heart
murmur can not be indicative of a potential problem. The
key is to determine if the detected murmur is causing a
I’m sure you’ve guessed, this is the time when a
visit to your veterinarian is appropriate. In Roxanne’s
case, a thorough evaluation of her heart is in order.
This should include a set of chest radiographs, an
electrocardiogram (that’s the electrical tracing of
the heart’s activity), an echocardiogram (ultrasounding
the heart), blood pressure measurement and possibly some
bloodwork. With these diagnostic steps, it is possible
to determine Roxanne’s heart condition and if it is
now or is likely to become a problem. It can also help
assess the risk from her anesthetic procedure.
presence of a heart murmur in no way implies heart
disease. With a proper workup, it is possible to
determine if there is indeed a heart problem or simply a