For owners

SSC welcomes every animal owner, irrespective of skin colour, heritage, ethnicity, religion or gender. The veterinary profession is one of the least diverse in the UK, and, particularly in the light of Black Lives Matters and related awareness campaigns, we are developing an anti racist agenda to increase diversity in our team.

Common conditions that we investigate and treat

Heart murmurs

Heart murmurs are one of the most common conditions that we investigate in dogs and cats and are often caused by leaking or abnormal heart valves.

In middle aged and older dogs, the most common cause of heart murmurs is mitral valve disease. There are medications that can be very effective at slowing heart enlargement or treating symptoms of heart failure caused by valvular heart disease.

Heart murmurs in young animals are often associated with malformations of the heart that are present from birth (also known as congenital heart disease). Congenital heart murmurs can be due to a variety of heart malformations. In addition to a variety of medications that can be used to manage these conditions, some congenital heart conditions can be significantly improved and even completely resolved with interventional procedures.

Dogs and cats of any age can develop innocent murmurs related to blood flow. These murmurs are usually very quiet and difficult to detect so if your pet has a loud heart murmur then it is unlikely to be innocent.

Cats are slightly different to their canine counterparts and develop heart murmurs due to variety of reasons. One of the most common causes is related to a thickening of the heart’s muscle. Possible complications of heart diseases in cats include heart failure and blood clots so we may prescribe medications to help prevent or treat these problems.

Heart auscultation

Collapsing and fainting episodes

Intermittent collapsing episodes are distressing events for both our patients and their owners so establishing the cause is important. There is a myriad of causes of intermittent collapse and a video of an event can be very useful so please bring this to the appointment if possible. Common heart problems that can lead to collapse or fainting episodes include structural heart disease and abnormal heart rhythms. In some collapsing patients we will fit a small heart monitor to your pet for them to wear at home whilst performing normal activities to screen for intermittent abnormal heart rhythms. Treatment of collapsing episodes depends on the underlying cause and may include medications or an interventional procedure such as pacemaker implantation.

Abnormal heart rhythms

Some dogs and cats can develop abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) which may be caused by heart disease or other problems within the body. A resting ECG will detect persistent arrhythmias and this is a straightforward test to perform. However some arrhythmias occur intermittently so it may be necessary to attach a heart monitor for your pet to wear at home for longer periods of time. If an arrhythmia is detected then there are a wide variety of medications that can be used to help control these rhythms.

ECG photo for abnormal heart rhythms

Heart failure

Heart failure can occur as a consequence of severe heart disease. The principal function of the heart is to pump blood around the body and, if heart function is impaired, then fluid may accumulate within the lungs or body cavities. Symptoms of heart failure in cats and dogs include lethargy, breathlessness, coughing and sometimes swelling of the abdomen. Echocardiography is used to determine the underlying heart disease and other tests such as chest x-rays or blood samples are sometimes required. There are a wide variety of medications that can be used to control heart failure, including medications that reduce the fluid build-up (diuretics) and improve the heart’s overall function.

Monitoring your pet’s sleeping breathing rates at home is important in the management of heart failure and is very helpful in deciding whether any adjustments to medications are required. In the initial stages, monitoring this daily is important and as your pet becomes more stable the frequency can be reduced to 2-3 times weekly. The breathing rate should be measured when your pet is asleep by monitoring how often the chest and flank rises and falls – one breath is recorded when the chest moves in and out. We measure the breathing rate over a period of one minute.

How to take a resting respiratory rate

Pericardial effusions

A pericardial effusion is a condition where fluid accumulates in the sack that surrounds the heart (the pericardium). A small amount of fluid is normal but excessive amounts of fluid will cause the heart to become compressed which impairs heart function. Dogs with a pericardial effusion may be lethargic, breathless, unable to exercise or have a distended abdomen.

Pericardial effusions can occur for no apparent reason (known as idiopathic) or due to tumours near the heart and echocardiography is used to make a diagnosis and also screen for signs of cancer. The treatment for a pericardial effusion involves draining the fluid from the sack around the heart. In dogs with recurring episodes of pericardial effusion, surgery can be done to remove part of the pericardium (pericardiectomy) and ameliorate symptoms.

Pericardial effusion
Ultrasound scan of a heart with a pericardial effusion. The red arrows indicate fluid accumulation within the sac that surrounds the heart (the pericardium).

Cardiac interventions

Certain heart conditions can be treated surgically via non-invasive interventional procedures. Conditions that can be treated in this way include pulmonic stenosis (narrowing of the valve in the artery to the lungs), patent ductus arteriosus (a persistent communication between the two arteries leaving the heart) and abnormal rhythms that require a pacemaker to be fitted. Further details are available under the “Cardiac Interventions” section.


Coughing is a very common condition that both dogs and cats can suffer from. There are many different causes of coughing including heart disease and also lung and airway problems. Tests used in investigation include echocardiography to assess for heart disease, chest x-rays to assess the lungs and airways, bronchoscopy (passing a small camera down into the airways) to assess airway structure, and obtain samples (this is known as a bronchoalveolar lavage or BAL). The treatment for coughing depends on the underlying cause.

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome

Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS) refers to several conformational issues affecting brachycephalic breeds (dogs with a short muzzle and flattened face) such as Pugs, French Bulldogs and English Bulldogs. Areas that are affected include the upper airways – nose, mouth and larynx and the trachea (windpipe). A wide variety of clinical signs are seen, such as snorting or snoring, reduced exercise ability, difficulty breathing during exercise, retching or regurgitation and restlessness at night. Some dogs have very severe signs including collapsing episodes.

Images showing normal nostrils (left) and markedly stenotic nostrils (right) in a Bulldog.
Images showing normal nostrils (left) and markedly stenotic nostrils (right) in a Bulldog.

BOAS is due to conformational problems including narrowed (stenotic) nostrils, long soft palates and decreased size of the windpipe (hypoplastic trachea). As a result of these conformational problems, some dogs will also develop secondary problems such as thickened linings to the nose and throat, regurgitation, increased salivation and vomiting. Treatment depends on the severity of the conformational changes with some dogs just requiring simple changes in management such as ensuring they do not become overweight, walking them with a harness and avoiding exercise in hot conditions. Other patients require surgery to improve their breathing which can be performed by Sarah at our Etwall clinic.

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