This post is going to look at exercising dogs with a heart murmur.
Grade 1 heart murmurs are common in medium-large breed dogs under five years of age. They are not harmful to your pet but should be monitored regularly by your vet.
If the grade 1 murmur progresses into a more serious condition, it can cause long term damage to the dog’s heart. A veterinarian may prescribe medication to help control heart conditions.
This does not mean that you cannot exercise your dog, but taking precautions such as avoiding steeper hills, not running and reducing ball chasing will help to ensure your pet receives the right amount of exercise.
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about heart murmurs and the best exercises you can do with your dog if they have a canine heart murmur.
What is a Heart Murmur in Dogs?
A heart murmur is an abnormal sound caused by turbulent blood flow. Your vet will be able to hear it when using a stethoscope to listen to a dog’s heart. There are different types of heart murmurs, some of which are more serious than others; depending on the underlying condition causing the murmur, they may or may not be treatable.
The sound can result from a leaky heart valve, congenital heart defects, weak muscles, heartworm tumours, infections etc. which can only be determined with diagnostic testing and chest x-rays.
Heart murmurs in dogs are not a disease; they’re a symptom, and while it could mean your pooch has an underlying heart problem, such as dilated cardiomyopathy or mitral regurgitation, it can also be completely innocent.
Grades of heart murmurs and what they mean
- Grade 1 – The sounds are extremely soft, barely audible and are the least serious
- Grade 2 – These can be heard through the use of a stethoscope but are still soft.
- Grade 3 – These murmurs radiate to more than one location and have intermittent loudness.
- Grade 4 – Moderate to intense murmurs that can be heard on both sides of the chest.
- Grade 5 – Very loud; these can be felt when touching the chest
- Grade 6 – Again, these are very loud and are also the most serious.
Young puppies can sometimes develop what are called innocent murmurs; these usually occur at a very young age, resolve given time and are not associated with any underlying heart conditions. If they don’t, you may be referred to a veterinary cardiologist to seek the underlying problem.
Signs Your Dog May Have Heart Disease
Many dogs diagnosed with heart murmurs don’t need any treatment and go on to live a normal life; however, it’s time to visit your veterinarian if you notice any of these symptoms.
- Abnormal heart sound
- A persistent cough
- Excessive panting
- Tires easily during play or exercise
- Shortness of breath
- Lack of energy and reluctance to go on walks
- Rapid breathing
- Fainting spells
- Blue gums
- Abdominal distention
- Reduced appetite
Dog heart murmur treatment
Heart murmurs require regular monitoring. Your vet will try to determine the underlying cause with blood tests, x-rays and/or a heart scan to measure the heart’s size. They will then either recommend a change in your dog’s diet and exercise routine or prescribe medication if needed.
Some are treated with surgery, especially if a birth defect causes them.
Does a heart murmur mean your dog will develop congenital heart disease?
Not necessarily unless it is a continuous murmur, these are most often caused by Patent Ductus Arteriosus, a congenital disease that commonly affects certain breeds such as:
- German Shepherds
- Yorkshire Terriers
Dog heart murmur life expectancy?
A dog with a mild murmur may live as long as any other pooch, but if it progresses to congestive heart failure, it can vary depending on other health factors and the seriousness of the condition; some live for only a few months whilst others live for several years.
9 Exercise Ideas That are Safe for a Dogs With Heart Murmurs
From grade 3 upwards, most dogs will have exercise intolerance. However, exercise is an integral part of your dog’s life, so what do you do? The list below covers activities that don’t put too much stress on the heart and are great alternatives to chasing a ball and long walks.
- Cavaletti – This is a low impact exercise that improves balance and coordination. All you need are some wooden poles or plastic pipes. Simply arrange them in patterns on the floor and encourage your pup to step over them.
- Hide and seek – Dogs love a game of hide and seek, and this game gives them plenty of mental stimulation without tiring them out. Simply hide behind a door under some cushions or behind the curtains and call your dog from another room to come find you.
- Nose work- Did you know that sniffing tires your dog out as much as walking? Spend a few minutes a day hiding treats under tin cans or buckets either in the garden or indoors and you will have one happy hound.
- Wobble boards – Balance boards improve core strength and are a fantastic low impact exercise suitable for dogs with heart murmurs; there are different types available online relatively cheaply too.
- Puzzle games – On hot and humid days, it’s much better for your furry friend to stay indoors and give its brain a workout. There are hundreds of these types of games online and in stores, so mix it up a bit and give Fido some problems to solve.
- Weave poles – Obviously, dogs with heart murmurs shouldn’t be doing agility training. Still, a few obstacles can be adapted to provide some fun and a gentle workout if your pooch has a reduced ability to exercise. Weave poles are excellent for strengthening muscles and improving flexibility. Just go slow and watch for signs of tiredness.
- Passive range of motion exercises – These are especially good for older dogs who may have arthritis or joint problems. This short video shows how PROM exercises are done.
- Short walks – Even if your canine companion has dodgy heart valves, they can still go on a walk around the block. Just remember not to set out in the midday heat and stop for a rest often. A dog carrier may be helpful for smaller breeds so you can carry them home if you need to cut the walk short.
- Yoga – Yoga isn’t just beneficial to humans; it can help dogs as well. It releases tension and stress, which is excellent for a dog with a heart problem and improves blood circulation. You can sign up for a class or check out YouTube for some exercise ideas.
Remember, the severity of the heart condition determines the amount of exercise your dog should have, so always check with your vet before beginning any new routine.
Can exercise make a heart murmur worse?
If your pup is showing clinical signs of an underlying heart condition, strenuous exercise can increase the stress placed on the heart. In some cases, this may lead to an increased deterioration in heart function.
Does CBD oil help dogs with heart murmur?
Yes, it can help manage pain and calm anxiety, which reduces stress on the heart and prevents blood pressure from rising. Discuss with your veterinarian, who will be able to advise on the options.
Can a dog’s heart murmur get better?
The innocent murmurs found in puppies often resolve themselves, but it really depends on the other causes, many of which can be managed with the proper medication.
Heart murmurs are worrying and, in some cases, can be the early signs of heart failure, but they are not a cause for panic in themselves. Your veterinarian will advise you of the best course of action, which may involve changing your pet food, limiting their activity and prescribing dog heart murmur medication.
You may feel your best friend’s quality of life has been diminished if they can’t run and play like they used to, but as we’ve covered above, there are plenty of ways for your pup to have fun still and keep healthy.
After all, your dog’s heart is where all that unconditional love comes from, so we should do our best to keep it strong!
We hope you’ve found this article helpful and we’d love to hear your stories about dogs who live with heart murmurs, so check out our social media platforms and get in touch!