Every year your dog should be taken to the vet for a check over- this is usually done in line with their yearly vaccinations and heartworm injections. During this visit your vet will do a complete examination of your dog, which includes listening to the heart.
Some dogs may have an underlying heart condition but not yet be showing any signs or symptoms. The vet will listen to your dog’s heart rate (which may sometimes be a bit high at the clinic due to stress), the rhythm of the heart- making sure this is regular, and the sounds of the heart beats- picking up any heart murmurs if they are there.
The most common finding in dogs with heart disease is a heart murmur. They are graded from 1-6 (1 is barely audible and 6 is very loud and you can usually feel a thrum on the dogs chest as well). By having a regular check hopefully a heart murmur will be picked up in the early stages.
Once a heart murmur is found the first step is chest x-rays. These will show us the size and shape of the heart and if there are any effects on the lungs. This in turn will tell us if any medications are needed. Most ideally an ultrasound of the heart would be performed (this is best done by a specialist) to see which part of the heart is causing the murmur and therefore allowing a better treatment regime to be implemented.
Studies have shown that if a dog is started on heart medication earlier on in heart disease they are likely to live a longer and more comfortable life.
If you have any questions or concerned regarding heart issues in your dog make sure you book an appointment to speak to your veterinarian.
Written by Dr Selma Fuijkschot