Heart murmurs in dogs aren’t serious, and are often diagnosed in puppies, disappearing as they get older.
However, in older dogs they can lead to health problems and a reduced life expectancy. For pet owners it’s important to know whether you can insure a dog with a heart murmur. Here’s our short answer.
You can’t insure a dog with a pre-existing condition such as a heart murmur. No insurer will offer coverage if your pet has already been diagnosed with this problem by a vet. However, some policies will cover this condition, providing the policy is taken out before diagnosis.
Does pet insurance cover heart murmur treatment?
As described above, in order to be covered for this condition you will need to have a pet insurance policy in place before your dog has developed a condition and been diagnosed.
It’s also very common for young puppies to have minor murmurs before they reach 4 months old, and those will disappear in most cases.
In cases such as this, providing your older dog’s current heart murmur condition is un-related to any issues it had as a puppy, you should be covered by pet insurance.
However, not all pet insurance policies are the same.
If you are taking out an insurance policy on your dog, which you should by default, then please check the terms and conditions to make sure it covers heart conditions.
If you have an existing pet insurance policy that doesn’t cover heart disease and related conditions, you cannot buy a new policy to then pay for diagnostics and treatment once the murmur has been discovered.
Our advice is to always make sure that you have the very best coverage for your dog, and you can see which ones we currently rate and recommend on our pet insurance comparison pages.
To conclude, it won’t be possible for you to take out a pet insurance policy in the UK to treat a pre-existing condition.
Dog heart murmur treatment costs
Treating a dog with a heart murmur can be very expensive, and without adequate pet insurance, the costs will soon mount up if you are having to pay from your own pocket.
The tests and treatments involved, with predicted 2018 costs, can include:
- Blood test – £90
- Heartworm test – £80
- Chest x-ray – £400
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) – £300
- Echocardiogram (ultrasound exam) – £300
- Blood pressure tests – £60
- Heart murmur drugs – dependent on drug
Please note, costs will vary depending on the size of your dog, where you live, and who your vet is. The costs above were estimated by calling 3 vets in the south of England in 2018 for a large Labrador and taking averages.
Dog heart murmur symptoms and causes
There are a number of conditions that can lead to a heart murmur, all which create turbulence all the blood flow through your dog’s heart.
The most common reasons for a heart murmur to develop can include:
- Weakened heart muscle walls (dilated cardiomyopathy)
- Heart wall defects
- Blockages in the heart’s valves
- Heartworm disease
- Infection in the heart valves (endocarditis)
It won’t always be obvious that your dog has a heart problem, and in many cases the diagnosis will be made when they are a puppy.
It could mean your puppy has a congenital heart problem or could be something that will disappear by the time they reach 4 months old.
If the heart murmur hasn’t resolved by that age, then your vet will recommend more testing followed by a program of treatment.
There are symptoms you should look out for as these could lead to health problems (here’s a larger list).
- Frequent and prolonged coughing
- Breathing difficulties
- Rapid or noisy breathing
- Lack of desire for exercise
- Lethargy and tiredness
- Losing consciousness and fainting
- Grey or blue gums
- Bloated belly
If at any point your dog displays any of these symptoms you should book an appointment with your vet immediately for a thorough examination.
Are heart murmurs in dogs serious?
Whilst they might sound serious, in some cases it can simply be what’s called an innocent heart murmur.
Do heart murmurs in dogs go away?
Innocent heart murmurs will resolve themselves over time and are more common in younger dogs being graded between 1 and 3 in seriousness (view all grades lower down the page).
In fact, a study in 2015 of several thousand dogs found that only 0.13% of dogs evaluated actually had a congenital heart defect.
However, with louder murmurs graded between 4 to 6 should always be properly evaluated by a vet, in most cases requiring heart scans and chest x-rays.
Louder and more serious murmurs are not easily treated and will often lead to more serious heart problems.
Does a heart murmur always lead to death?
If your vet has diagnosed a heart murmur it doesn’t always mean that it will lead to death.
Some dogs can live perfectly happy lives without developing any serious problems. But that won’t always be the case, and life expectancy will depend on the cause of the murmur.
The most serious cases can lead onto heart failure, with a lot of coughing and a reluctance or inability to exercise properly.
Even with these symptoms, it might still be possible for your dog to have a long life, but it’s different for each animal on a case by case basis.
In the majority of cases though, a heart murmur will prove fatal in most dogs if it hasn’t disappeared by the age of 4 months.
How long can a dog live with a heart murmur?
Thankfully there are certain drugs which can help prolong the life of your dog, but it will need to be diagnosed and administered early on in their lives.
There are different heart murmur grades depending on the severity of the condition, which have varying degrees of life expectancy attached to them.
Your vet will be able to quickly grade the seriousness of the murmur by listening to your dog’s heart using a stethoscope.
Vets will be listening for noises which are caused by turbulent blood flow. The noise is sometimes described “lub-swish-dub” sound, rather than the typical “whooshing” or “lub-dub” when heard through a stethoscope.
- Grade 1: This is a very soft and quiet murmur that is almost undetectable.
- Grade 2: This is a soft murmur that can be easily heard by a vet.
- Grade 3: This is a low to moderate noise.
- Grade 4: This is a moderate to loud noise.
- Grade 5: This will be loud enough to make your dog’s chest vibrate.
- Grade 6: This can be heard without listening directly on the chest wall.
If your dog falls into the 1 to 2 grades you don’t need to worry at the moment as it’s unlikely they have a serious heart problem and can live just like any normal dog should.
However, your vet will still recommend testing them every year to check for any changes in severity.
At grade 3, your dog will still look and behave outwardly fit and well but could be at risk of becoming ill very soon. At this point it’s likely that your vet will recommend a heart scan, which can be very expensive without adequate pet insurance.
The heart scan will let your vet measure the size of your dog’s heart, allowing for the correct drugs and treatment to be prescribed before possible heart failure.
The higher grades of murmur will almost certainly mean that your dog’s life expectancy is dramatically reduced.
However, there are special drugs available which can reduce heart failure risk by up to 30% and sometime lead to an increased life expectancy of another year at least.
In terms of life expectancy, it will vary from dog to dog, and it’s something that your vet will be able to advise on once your pet has been fully checked and diagnosed.
Are certain breeds more susceptible to heart problems?
A study conducted in 2017 looked at congenital heart defects in dogs, with the aim of finding out whether any particular breeds were more at risk.
The retrospective study conducted in Poland examined medical records of dogs who had undergone a cardiological examination and found the following breeds to be the most affected:
- Bull Terriers – 10%
- Boxers – 9%
- German Shepherds – 6%
- Yorkshire Terriers – 6%
- French Bulldogs – 5%
There’s no doubt that early recognition of a congenital heart defect is important for receiving effective treatment and care.
If you do own any of the breeds above, it would be sensible to look at finding pet insurance that will cover heart conditions and defects.