Archive for March 5th, 2009

Last year during a routine checkup, the vet detected a heart murmur in my dog Ava. I wasn’t alarmed. It’s not uncommon for older dogs and often does not impair their quality or length of life. But then x-rays revealed that she had an enlarged heart. The vet recommended that I take her to a cardiologist to get an echo sonogram done. The results confirmed that she was suffering left mitral valve regurgitation.  What that means was that the valve in her left chamber was deteriorating so that blood that pushed through was flowing back since the valve was not shutting completely. This was leading to fluid retention in the heart, leading to enlargement, leading to all sorts of other issues. Since then, Ava has been on a constantly adjusted cocktail of medicines designed to keep the blood moving and heart pumping and we go one day at a time.

So you can understand that I didn’t take it lightly when an exam of a cria last summer revealed a heart murmur. The cria was only a few days old and in the majority of cases when a murmur is found in newborns, this is just a delay in a valve closing post-birth and it resolves on its own within the first few months.  But recently I had the vet out again and as a precaution, asked her to check this cria, now an 8 month old weanling. The bad news: a bilateral heart murmur. Because it’s hard to know what a heart murmur sounds like unless you know what a normal heart sounds like, my vet had me listen to a cria with a normal heart and the baby with the murmur.  For the past half year, I had been listening to my dog’s murmur so I knew what an extreme murmur sounded like and in this cria, it was still very distinct.  You see, the normal heart sound “lubb-dupp” sound is the sound of the valves closing. In the case of my dog, there is just one big squishy sound, no “dupp” because that valve is so badly deteriorated. In the case of this cria, two distinct beats but both “squishy”, like a static- filled audio signal.

It’s hard to equate descriptions like “lubb-dupp” and “squishy” with what you actually hear to diagnose, so I thought I would post the sounds here.  Listen to a Normal Heartbeat and now a heart murmur – in this case a Mitral Valve Regurgitation.Hear the difference? To detect them in your own animals, make sure you get a good stethoscope.

Heart murmurs can be detected at all levels – some are very faint, some extremely distinct. The only way to really determine what kind, the cause, and how serious it is to the animal’s health is to get a sonogram. In the case of my little boy, however, it was unambiguous enough to result in his removal from the breeding pool. These can be genetic defects so when found in a male or a female animal, can lead to a difficult conclusion.

So now my little boy will go to a home where he will be fully utilized as a fiber male. Though not by breeding, he’ll still pay his own way. In many ways, he’ll be much happier. No hauling to shows, no weekends in pens – just a long languorous life browsing pastures with herdmates. Sure, he won’t breed but it’ll be hard for him to miss something he never had. But right now he’s just a baby , and as he bounds up to me to see if I have any pellets, he’s still bursting with the potential of innocent babydom. And even though I know he’ll in many ways lead a much happier life, I can’t help feeling just a little bit sad as I let go of the last of all those bright hopes I had for him.

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