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The Congenital Cardiac Exam

The Cardiac Exam

The clinical cardiac examination should be conducted in a systematic manner. The arterial and venous pulses, mucous membranes, and precordium should be evaluated. Heart rate should be obtained. The clinical examination should be performed by an individual with advanced training in cardiac diagnosis.

Board certification by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Specialty of Cardiology is considered by the American Veterinary Medical Association as the benchmark of clinical proficiency for veterinarians in clinical cardiology, and examination by a Diplomate of this specialty board is recommended. Other veterinarians may be able to perform these examinations, provided they have received advanced training in the subspecialty of congenital heart disease.


Cardiac auscultation should be performed in a quiet, distraction-free environment. The animal should be standing and restrained, but sedative drugs should be avoided. Panting must be controlled and if necessary, the dog should be given time to rest and acclimate to the environment. The clinician should able to identify the cardiac valve areas for auscultation. The examiner should gradually move the stethoscope across all valve areas and also should auscultate over the subaortic area, ascending aorta, pulmonary artery, and the left craniodorsal cardiac base. Following examination of the left precordium, the right precordium should be examined.

Description of Cardiac Murmurs

A full description of the cardiac murmur should made and recorded in the medical record.

Effects of heart rate, heart rhythm, and exercise

Some heart murmurs become evident or louder with changes in autonomic activity, heart rate, or cardiac cycle length. Such changes may be induced by exercise or other stresses. The importance of evaluating heart murmurs after exercise is currently unresolved. It appears that some dogs with congenital subaortic stenosis or with dynamic outflow tract obstruction may have murmurs that only become evident with increased sympathetic activity or after prolonged cardiac filling periods during marked sinus arrhythmia It also should be noted that some normal, innocent heart murmurs may increase in intensity after exercise. Furthermore, panting artifact may be a problem after exercise.

It is most likely that examining dogs after exercise will result in increased sensitivity to diagnosis of soft murmurs but probably decreased specificity as well. Auscultation of the heart following exercise is at the discretion of the examining veterinarian.

At this time the OFA does not require a post exercise examination in the assessment of heart murmurs in dogs; however, this practice may be modified should definitive information become available


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