A Cardiology Dictionary for Pet Owners

If you ever feel like your doctor or veterinarian is speaking a foreign language, you’re not alone! Medical jargon can quickly become overwhelming and hard to follow. 

At CVCA, we always try to communicate as clearly as possible, but if you ever feel that you don’t fully understand something, please, ask us to stop and explain. For owners of pets with heart disease, here’s a quick cheat sheet to help clear things up:

  • Auscultation – Describes the act of listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope. It’s a quick and easy way to find problems like heart murmurs, rhythm problems, or a build-up of fluid in the lungs.

  • Congestive heart failure – Fluid in or around the lungs or pooling in the belly. This happens when the diseased heart can no longer keep up with the body’s needs. Symptoms include problems breathing, coughing, or a swollen belly. This is a life threatening problem and requires treatment for the pet to survive. 

  • Echocardiogram – Also called an Echo. This is an ultrasound of the beating heart that uses sound waves to create a “video” of the heart in action. We use this to look at the heart size and function and decide if your pet needs heart medicine or surgery. 

  • Electrocardiogram – Also called an ECG or EKG. This test records the electrical signals in the heart. It provides detailed information about the heart rhythm.

  • Gallop – Unlike the “whooshing” sound of a murmur, a gallop is an extra sound that is almost always a sign of heart disease.  Instead of the normal two heart sounds (Lub-Dub), a gallop is a 3rd sound (“Lub-Dub-Dub … Lub-Dub-Dub … Lub-Dub-Dub”) that resembles a galloping horse.  A gallop is usually a sign of severe underlying heart disease. 

  • Murmur– A murmur is a “whooshing” sound that can be heard when listening to the heart. The normal sound is the familiar “Lub-Dub … Lub-Dub … Lub-Dub” caused by the heart valves opening and closing. The blood should flow smoothly and silently through the heart. If the blood flow is abnormal, it creates a whoosh and called a heart murmur.  Many different problems in the heart cause murmurs such as:
    • Heart valves that don’t close all the way
    • Narrowed regions of the heart or vessels
    • Abnormal holes between the chambers of the heart.
Some murmurs are not due to heart disease but can be a result of other illnesses. Changes in the blood itself like anemia (a low red blood cell count) or other conditions like a fever or an overactive thyroid gland can also cause a soft murmur.  Puppies and kittens can also have innocent murmurs that disappear as they grow - usually by 5 months.

  • Syncope – Fainting due to reduced blood flow to the brain. This can be due to poor heart function or from rhythm problems that cause the heart rate to be too slow or too fast. Pets with this problem fall over suddenly, get back up quickly (usually within 30 seconds), and seem normal before and after the episode. Often these events are triggered by coughing, sudden excitement, or activity (e.g., running up stairs). It can be hard to tell fainting from a seizure. Seizures tend to last longer, involve shaking or tensing of the body, and often cause drooling, urination, or defecation. In most seizures, the pet acts odd both before and after the event, usually for minutes, or hours.


Back to Blog