Q What does a heart murmur mean? My veterinarian listened to Chuckie's chest and told me that he has a heart valve defect causing a murmur. Chuckie is an 8-year-old cockapoo and is very active, playful, eats well and does not cough. Is my dog going to need medication or surgery?
--Mary Silva, Buena Park
A A heart murmur is the sound of fluid turbulence that is heard when blood flows back through a defective heart valve or opening in the heart wall. The defect in the valve could be congenital or caused by aging, injury or disease. A murmur alone should not be immediate cause for treatment, but you should be aware that progressive heart disease can occur. There are many people and pets leading active lives despite uncomplicated heart murmurs.
Chuckie's murmur can be better evaluated with a chest X-ray and an electrocardiogram to evaluate the electroconductivity within the heart muscles. Special diagnostic tests such as echocardiography using sound waves can actively assess the function of the heart valves and the muscles of the heart while the heart beats. Angiography, a contrast radiographic study, can help identify and locate defects in the valves or heart lining. Medication may be necessary if your dog shows signs of heart failure, such as a chronic cough, weakness with exercise or fluid accumulation in the abdomen. A special low-sodium diet may also be needed, along with restriction in exercise.
Surgery may be necessary with certain defects of the heart walls or in the major vessels of the heart and lungs. Careful evaluation of your pet's condition is essential before anesthesia or surgery.
Q When we travel on vacation this summer, we plan to take our cocker spaniel with us. What special things do we need to take with us?
--Linda Chambers, Costa Mesa
A You should make sure that your pet is vaccinated, especially for rabies, and that you have your certificates with you that list the vaccinations. If your pet is on a medication or special diet, make sure that you have enough for the entire vacation. It is also a good idea to know the name and strength of the medications in case you lose them. Carry proper identification papers of your pet, especially several good pictures or descriptions of identifying marks.
If you are going into areas where heartworm disease is prevalent, it would be wise to have your pet tested by your veterinarian and put on a preventive medication. You may want to take a flea spray or shampoo with you to help control external parasites such as fleas or ticks.
If your pet is unaccustomed to car travel, consider a mild sedative to help relieve anxiety.
Careful planning of your itinerary will help you find lodging where pets are welcome to stay with you at night. Auto clubs may be able to provide listings. Always have a good sturdy leash and collar for your dog. Take a few of his favorite toys and, of course, his own food and water bowls. Allow for reasonable rest stops for your pet to exercise and relieve himself.
Got a question about your pet? Write Dr. Glenn Ericson, Ask the Vet, Orange County Life, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa 92626. Ericson, a practicing county veterinarian, is president of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Assn.