Heart murmurs are common. An audible murmur is caused by turbulence of the blood flow within the heart. Not all murmurs are serious; some are just caused by a normal degree of turbulence. A murmur becomes serious, however, when it is an indication of heart disease. The most common and accurate way you can find out if a murmur is a sign of heart disease is by obtaining an echocardiogram for your pet once the vet determines that a significant murmur is present.
A “thrill” refers to the buzzing or vibration you can feel by putting your hand or cheek on your pet’s chest if the pet has a significant degree of blood turbulence (severe murmur) in the heart. A thrill indicates a serious heart condition.
“Arrhythmias are irregular or erratic heartbeats” (Eldredge, 2007, p. 338). Abnormal rhythms may be slower than normal (bradycardia) or faster than normal (tachycardia). Sometimes the heartbeat may be at a normal speed and rate, but the heartbeats follow an “abnormal path through the heart muscle” (Eldredge, 2007, p. 339). There are many possible causes of arrhythmias, including hormonal imbalances, potassium deficiencies, certain cancers, or cardiomyopathy.
Symptoms of arrhythmias can include anxiety, fainting, weakness, or lethargy. It is important that if you notice changes in the normal behavior of your dog or cat to have him or her checked out by a veterinarian immediately. Treatment for arrhythmias include medication to regulate the heartbeat. It is reported that some dogs even benefit from having pacemakers implanted (Eldredge, 2007).