Several tests can be used to diagnose and understand more about your dog’s heart complaint. We will explain why each of these tests is important and why your vet may choose to perform them to manage your dog’s care more effectively.
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In most cases, this is the point at which MVDD is first suspected by your vet.
All dogs with suspected or confirmed mitral valve disease should have their blood pressure checked. Many of these dogs will have high blood pressure, which can make it even harder for the left side of the heart to pump correctly. High blood pressure can also damage other organs, such as the kidneys.
Taking radiographs (X-rays) of your dog’s chest is needed to assess your dog’s heart for changes in size and shape. The images can also be used to look for any signs of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary oedema), which can occur in congestive heart failure. Your dog will usually be sedated or anaesthetised so that good-quality images can be safely taken.
An ultrasound scan of the heart is called ‘echocardiography’, usually just shortened to an ‘echo’. It’s a good way to look in depth at the heart, including the valves, but also gives more information about how well the heart is functioning.
Echo can help us to definitively diagnose the cause of the murmur. However, it cannot diagnose pulmonary oedema – which is why x-rays will still be needed alongside this. Unlike x-rays (radiographs), some dogs can be scanned while conscious, with gentle restraint in a darkened room.
An ECG is a recording of the electrical activity of the heart, which is what causes the muscle to ‘beat’. This is usually performed by placing sensors on locations on the surface of the body. The results come out as a continuous ‘trace’ printed on paper or appearing on a screen. This gives the vet a record of your pet’s heart rate, but also rhythm, allowing problems like skipped beats to be noted.
The recording looks at whether all of the normal electrical activity is occurring, or whether there are defects. Animals with a poor rhythm (arrhythmia) may require specific medications to help their heart beat more effectively again.
This blood test looks at your dog’s red and white blood cells. It is often performed to rule out other conditions such as anaemia, and to look for markers of infection or inflammation. It is usually run alongside biochemistry.
This blood test assesses liver and kidney function, as well as looking at other things like protein and blood sugar levels. This allows other health conditions to be ruled out but also ensures that your pet can start medication for their heart safely. Your vet will need to monitor your pet’s kidneys and electrolytes on certain drugs used to manage MMVD.
Blood tests are available to look at certain ‘biomarkers’ within the blood which can be released if the heart muscle is under abnormal strain. They can be useful in cases where it is unclear whether a dog’s breathing problems are due to an underlying heart issue, or something else.
The two most common markers are cardiac troponin-I and N-terminal pro-B-type natriuretic peptide (pro-BNP). Pro-BNP is released into the blood when a heart is stretched, dilated, or thickened, so raised levels suggest a problem that needs further investigation. High levels of troponin are also a sign that there’s heart disease to be investigated.
Your vet will need to perform an examination of your pet initially and take a clinical history from you. They will then be able to recommend tests based on their findings. While a murmur can make them suspicious of heart disease, it is not diagnostic. Further tests are needed to say exactly what is causing the abnormal sound and whether there are other issues such as fluid build-up in the lungs or underlying organ function issues which could affect your dog’s treatment options. Your vet will talk you through the results and recommendations for your pet.
Your vet’s physical examination will give them a lot of information, but not the complete picture, so further diagnostics are usually required.