Heart Screening

Sarah SmithCertain breeds of dogs and cats are predisposed to congenital and/or acquired heart disease and many breed clubs (Boxer, Cavalier King Charles, Dobermann, Maine Coone and Ragdoll etc.) have already issued important recommendations for heart screening in an attempt to identify and reduce the prevalence of some heart abnormalities.

Sarah is on the list of recommended veterinary surgeons for Cardiac Auscultation, Doppler Echocardiographic examination in dogs and testing for HCM in cats.

Cardiac Auscultation

Cardiac auscultation is a good initial screening test that is relatively quick and well tolerated.  The cardiologist listens to the animal’s heart using a stethoscope because many animals with heart problems will have an audible  murmur (an abnormal noise during the heart beating).  If no abnormality is detected, the owner will be issued with a certificate stating that no murmur was found.  If a murmur is detected then this will be graded on a scale from 1 to 6 (1 being extremely quiet and only audible in the most quiet circumstances, and 6 being so loud that it may be heard without a stethoscope). Doppler echocardiography (heart scanning) will probably be recommended  if the murmur is above a grade 1, to  determine the source and potential significance.  In this case the owner will still be issued with the certificate but it will detail the type and Grade of abnormality that has been detected.

Doppler Echocardiography

Doppler echocardiography is  imaging of the heart by the use of ultrasound waves directed into the animal’s chest and reflected back to provide a real time moving image. It enables non invasive examination of the organ, and identification of any abnormality in structure, function or blood flow patterns.

This procedure takes  longer than auscultation (usually 25- 40 minutes) and often requires a little shaving of the fur either side of the chest, unless the coat is sparse, as in most Dobermanns and Boxers.  They will be gently held on their side on a special examination table to have their heart scanned from beneath.  The owner can stay with the animal to minimise its stress. The procedure is not painful and most animals relax quickly, and even seem to enjoy the attention.

A certificate will be issued to the owner detailing any abnormalities found. For  dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) screening, a clear “scan” does not guarantee that the disease will not develop later, so annual screening may be appropriate (refer to specific breed recommendations where available). Other acquired heart diseases may also develop with time (e.g. mitral valve disease); one clear scan does not preclude the possibility of heart disease in the future.

Heart Certificates

Heart certificates are issued by approved veterinary cardiologists in association with the Veterinary Cardiovascular Society and in agreement with the RCVS. Discussions are in progress on proposals for heart disease screening schemes in several breeds, but at present there are no compulsory requirements for Kennel Club registration. Many breed clubs have recognised that heart problems have arisen in their breed and have recommendations for screening.

Each certificate issued has 4 copies:

  • White copy – goes to the Owner
  • Pink copy – goes to the primary Veterinarian (the owners regular vet)
  • Blue copy – goes to the breed society research collation section to help mass data on where specific problems lie (this differs between breed societies)
  • Yellow copy – is retained by the cardiologist

Further information on heart screening is offered by the veterinary cardiovascular society on their website:

www.bsava.org.uk/vcs/Information/HeartTesting.aspx