Just as for humans, animals can be affected by heart disease.

Heart Murmurs

Normally when we listen to the heart through a stethoscope, we hear a clear lub-dup sound as the heart valves open and shut. When there is excessive turbulence of blood as it moves through the heart these sounds are no longer clear, and we hear a whooshing sound as the heart beats. Heart murmurs can be heard when the valves leak a little after shutting, when the vessels of the heart are narrowed, or when the heart does not contract properly as it beats. Heart murmurs are not always clinically significant. Some breeds of animals can be predisposed to subclinical murmurs, e.g. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are often affected by mitral valve insufficiency. This condition involves the leaking of the mitral valve and does not always result in heart failure. While the location of the murmur, or point of maximum intensity (PMI) can give clues as to the cause of the murmur, the only way to definitively identify the cause is to ultrasound the heart (echocardiography).

Echocardiography

Echocardiography involves the examination of the heart using ultrasound. Ultrasound allows you to visualise internal organs in real-time – this means you can see the heart move as it beats. Echocardiography allows the operator to evaluate the action and efficacy of the heart valves, measure the thickness of the heart and blood vessel walls and diameter of its chambers, determine the contracting ability of the heart, and identify and abnormalities in blood flow or heart structure. Echocardiography is a diagnostic test requiring a skilled ultrasound operator. As a result patients are referred to a veterinary imaging specialist for this procedure. The cost of an echocardiogram is usually $300-400.

Electrocardiography

Electrocardiography (ECG) is a test used to trace the electrical impulses of the heart as it beats. Patients are wired to a machine that records the pattern – this pattern is then compared to the pattern of a “normal” heart. As each of the heart chambers creates a different signal as it contracts and relaxes, ECG’s provide information on the rhythm of the heart cycle. As a result ECG’s are usually used to help diagnose the presence of blockages in the conduction system of the heart that cause an abnormal heart rhythm.