Beau a 9 year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

One of Rachel’s earliest memories is going to collect Beau when he was a puppy. She was just three years old when her family drove to a breeder in the countryside to see the litter of pups. Rachel chose him because he was the only ruby-coloured (all brown) pup: the rest of them were a mixture of black, brown and white.

a heart murmur was detected

Beau has been a healthy dog, but at a routine visit to the vet recently, a heart murmur was noticed. This is a type of swishing sound that can be heard when the chest is examined with a stethoscope: it means that there is turbulent blood flow inside the heart. In Cavaliers, the most common cause is a leaky heart valve. The breed suffers from a high incidence of premature degeneration of the heart valves and it’s common to hear a murmur in middle aged Cavaliers. There’s no need for any treatment to be given at first: many dogs have heart murmurs but no sign of any problem, and they can continue to be healthy for many years without any medication. However when dogs with heart murmurs fall ill, it’s important that appropriate treatment is given promptly.

Beau’s problem started two weeks ago: he started to cough, then one morning, he developed serious difficulty breathing. His sides were heaving and he could hardly stand up. He was rushed to our clinic, and we admitted him to our hospital for the day. His life was in danger at that stage, and he needed to be kept in an oxygen-enriched cage for most of the day. I took a series of xrays and these showed an enlarged heart, confirming that his problem was caused by heart failure due to the leaky valves. His heart was no longer able to pump the blood around his body effectively, and fluid was pooling in his lungs, preventing him from getting enough oxygen.

beau was given medication

The ultimate answer to the problem of leaky heart valves is to have surgery to repair or replace the valves, but this is not available for dogs. Instead, medication is used to ease the pressure on the heart, and to make it beat more strongly. Beau was started onto a cocktail of four different drugs, each having a different effect. He is happy to take his medication: each tablet is wrapped in a piece of ham, so he feels like he is being pampered with extra treats rather than being forced to have something he doesn’t want. The medication doesn’t cure dogs with heart failure permanently, but it will remove the fluid from their lungs, so that their breathing improves and they cough less often.

Beau’s breathing became much more settled almost immediately with his treatment, but he still breathes more heavily than he used to. I asked Rachel to use an app on her iPhone – called “Cardalis” – to measure how many breaths he takes every minute. This is an important figure: a normal dog takes less than 30 breaths per minute, and when Beau was at his worst, he was breathing nearly 50 times every minute. The app is easy to use: Rachel taps the screen of her phone every time he takes a breath, and this is converted into the number of breaths per minute. By tapping another button, Rachel can send me an update by email every week. If his breathing gets too fast, I can then suggest increasing the dose of medication.

So far, Beau is doing very well. He still has a mild cough in the morning, but he’s a happy dog again, enjoying life with his family.

Tips

  • Coughing and difficulty breathing are often caused by heart disease
  • Some breeds of dogs are more prone to heart problems
  • Modern treatments can extend an affected dog’s life by months or years

 

 

4 Comments

  • Michael Dench says:

    My Pal Zorro, a 9 year old Cav, passed away last Sunday, leaving me devastated.
    He was in pretty good health, with a skin condition well under control.
    He was diagnosed with a heart murmur when he was still a puppy.
    He coughed occasionally …. sounding like cat with a hair ball. Yeah…dogs don’t have hair balls. I realize now that my Buddy died from a heart condition. Thanks for listening.

    • petethevet says:

      I am so sorry to hear this Michael – it is so upsetting when you lose a close friend like this. There are many causes of coughing, and indeed many many causes of death in Cavaliers, so please don’t rush to a conclusion which may be incorrect. My sympathy to you. Pete

  • Marianne Ryan says:

    My westie passed away in our garden last Monday. He would have been ten next month. He had a grade 1 heart murmur at birth and had told vets couple of yrs ago that he had cough esp after running. He also started getting it from time to time in the house. Vets didn’t seem concerned and didn’t mention heart failure until he had xray for fatty lump on leg, they told me he had enlarged heart for some time and he was out on meds but they didn’t seem too concerned. He was happy, eating and walking but only on diuretics in and off when cough got worse until wed. night. He couldn’t breathe, move or eat and vomited any food up. Went to vets and they upped his meds&gave him diuretic injection. Waited a day but no improvement so rang vet on sat and they said keep him hydrated and make sure he takes heart meds and diuretics&we’ll check him when he’s groomed on wed. I said he won’t be able for that but they seemed to think he would be. All Sunday he was the same so I decided to go to vet Monday to find out if he was suffering too much but he went into garden& I found him and he looked into my eyes went into bushes had what looked like heart attack and died. I am so guilt ridden that my baby suffered when he shouldn’t have ever and feel.vets didn’t do enough. My heart is broken as he was my best friend&,my baby and he prob suffered as I listened to vets.as I thought they would never let him suffer.

    • petethevet says:

      I’m really sorry to hear about the loss of your Westie: just devastating for you. It’s always impossible to comment in detail on an individual case, but I often say to owners of dogs with heart disease that the only genuine cure would be a new heart, and that clearly isn’t an option. So all we can do is use medication to ease the burden on the heart, such as diuretics, then sometimes other drugs that work in other ways. But ultimately, the problem was that your Westie’s heart was failing, and that was only going to end in one, sad, way, as it did.
      My sympathy to you – but there is no need to feel guilty – the end is always inevitable, for all of us. None of us can avoid that. It’s the yin of the yang, the other side of the coin of love, part of the deal that we are all given when we are born, animal and human. Please take care. Pete

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