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Does my dog need a Heart Ultrasound?

by | Apr 20, 2023 | Our Blog, Vet Hospital Las Vegas | 0 comments

Featuring Charlie’s Story

Charlie, an adorable and spry 12-week old female Pitbull Mix, and her eight littermates, presented to Highlands Animal Care for their 12-week vaccine evaluation. During her physical examination, Dr. Erica Monaco noted that Charlie had a heart murmur. A heart murmur is an abnormal “whooshing” sound of the heart, heard by the doctor with the use of a stethoscope. This sound may indicate a problem with cardiac blood flow, typically involving one of the four heart valves. In order to get a better idea of what was going on, Dr. Monaco recommended performing a thoracic ultrasound focusing on the heart. Charlie had no other symptoms, her littermates did not have a heart murmur, and sometimes a heart murmur in puppies can be a normal finding.

A thoracic ultrasound is an ultrasound, also known as a sonogram, of the chest cavity. A cardiac or heart ultrasound focuses on the structure and function of the heart. This specific test, also known as an echocardiogram (abbreviated as ECHO in the veterinary field) allows the veterinarian to take pictures and videos of how the heart is pumping, how blood is flowing and what the structures of the heart looks like. This includes an evaluation of how the heart valves are functioning, the structures implicated in a murmur. This can help veterinarians, like Dr. Monaco, identify problems with the heart and develop treatment strategies that can improve quality of life and increase longevity for a pet like Charlie.

Sometimes heart murmurs can be benign, also known as “innocent”, and these are seen commonly in young animals. Puppies will grow out of innocent heart murmurs as they become an adult. We cannot determine this without imaging the heart with an ultrasonic evaluation. Dr. Monaco is able to perform such an elaborate imaging diagnostic on dogs because she completed the rigorous cardiac ultrasound training required. This allows her to collect the images and videos necessary so that a board certified cardiologist can then interpret the echocardiographic images and videos, and send Dr. Monaco an official report regarding the findings and their recommendations.

In Charlie’s situation, it was found that she does have a rather serious condition called valvular pulmonic stenosis, causing the right side of her heart to become secondarily enlarged. This disease can drastically affect longevity and will require treatment and consistent follow-ups with physical examinations and repeated ECHOs. In fact, Charlie may benefit from a specialized cardiac procedure called a balloon valvuloplasty where a special medical-grade balloon-tipped catheter device is placed within Charlie’s vessels, passed to the heart, and the balloon expanded to open up the affected valve. A referral to a Cardiologist who is familiar with this procedure would be the next step.

Charlie’s foster family has posted a GoFundMe account to help raise money to afford the balloon valvuloplasty procedure in a surgery center located in Arizona. You can help them by visiting their page: “Mend Charlie’s Broken Heart” (https://gofund.me/4a22cc50

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