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Dog has heart murmur.

Species: Dog
Breed: Border Collie
Age: 5-8 years
Hello, Dr. Marie:

When my dog was still a puppy, the vet told me that she had a 3 to 4 grade heart murmur. Most vets have told me that it may or may not be an issue as she gets older. Well, she is now 7, and I am starting to worry more and more about her. She had x-rays done recently that showed her heart was enlarged but the vet said that there were no indications of congestive heart failure. My question is two-fold. First, what signs should I be watching for in the future that would indicate that she’s in trouble? Second, the vet indicated that dogs with heart mumurs can die suddenly. I had not heard this before, and was wondering if you can confirm whether this is true and, if it is, how common it for dogs with heart mumurs to show no indication of decline before passing. I lost two family pets within the last 6 months (both died of very old age) so I am on edge and worry constantly about my dog.

Thank you so much for your help!

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Thanks for your question Julie.

From what you have described, it is unlikely that you have to worry about Jammy's heart. Although no one can give you any guarantees, let me give you my thoughts on Jammy's heart.

If Jammy has had a heart murmur for seven years and has not had any clinical symptoms of heart disease, then there is a good chance that she will live a long life and never have a heart problem. Many puppies can be born with heart murmurs that are present their whole lives and never cause health issues.

When I get worried is when I have a dog who has never had a murmur and then suddenly develops one.

I also get worried when I hear a murmur and a dog has a cough that tends to be worse when the dog gets excited. This is a sign that the heart is struggling.

The one concern, and this is what your vet was talking about, is a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). This is a condition where a dog will have a large heart. The heart is dilated and the muscles of the heart can weaken over time. Dogs with this condition can indeed die suddenly. But, this is not commonly seen in Border Collies. If Jammy was a Boxer or a Great Dane I would be a little more suspicious of DCM, but if this were my patient I would likely be telling you not to worry for now, but to come back and see me if a cough developed.

One thing you could do to help us understand whether we need to be worried is to have an ultrasound done of Jammy's heart. An ultrasound can tell us for sure if there is DCM and can give us an idea of severity. Or, the ultrasonographer may just find that there is a leaky valve which would be nothing to worry about.

I hope that helps to put your mind at ease!

If you have more concerns, let me know. I will be heading off to bed soon though, so if I don't respond within a few minutes I'll get back to you in the morning.

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

Customer reply:

Thank you so much for your response--you definitely made me feel much better! Jammy does clear her throat pretty frequently (between 10-12 times a day, if not more) and she will cough then but it looks like it's because she has gotten hair in her mouth (she's very hairy). I mention this because I want to be sure that this is not something to worry about. Thank you again!

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

It's hard to say whether that cough is something to worry about or not. If it's something she has done her whole life then I really wouldn't be concerned.

A great thing to do would be to jot down how many times per day she does it. If it is because of her heart then you will find that she is doing it more and more frequently, and especially after getting excited or exercising.

And again, if you can have an ultrasound done that would be great! In my area it's around $400-$500 for an ultrasound...not cheap, but it may be worth it for your piece of mind!

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Thank you for the bonus! That was a nice way to end my day.

Blessings to you and Jammy and your family!

Dr. Marie

Customer reply:

Dr. Marie:

Thank you again for your help last night. I wanted to ask you a quick follow-up question. My vet recommended that we get an echo of her heart. Would you recommend an ultrasound instead of an echo? Or both?

Thank you!

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

This is an easy question to answer! An echo (echocardiogram) and an ultrasound are the same thing! It's just two different words that describe the same procedure.

You may have been thinking of an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) which measures the electric conduction of the heart. This would not be as useful as the ultrasound.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.