Heart murmurs and irregular beats (arrhythmias) are commonly heard by vets during routine examinations or when a horse is ill. Some of them may be completely normal, others reflect a benign disease and can be tolerated by the horse for years without causing any trouble, and a last but not least type may make the horse unsafe to exercise.

Specialist examinations like cardiac ultrasound and ECG (Electrocardiogram) are required to identify the exact heart problem and to know if it is affecting the health of your horse or it’s safety to be ridden and exercised.

Cardiac ultrasound

Most heart murmurs are caused by a leak in the valves of the heart, although congenital defects may also be present. Depending on the size of the leak and the type of valve involved, the size and the pumping ability of the heart may change. With an ultrasound scan of the heart, it is possible to identify heart valve diseases and how they affect the shape and contraction of the heart. When the valve leak affect the heart in such way than it starts dilating, an exercise ECG will help determining if the horse is still safe to be ridden. With modern ultrasound machines, it is now possible to perform cardiac ultrasound at your horse’s stable.

ECG (Electrocardiogram)

During ECG, it is possible to record the electrical activity of the heart, and to understand the cardiac rhythm and its abnormalities (arrhythmias). One of the most common and problematic arrhythmias detected in horses at rest is atrial fibrillation, where the heart rhythm is totally erratic. This is most commonly found in large breeds, and, depending on the stage of the disease, several treatment options are currently available. Cardiac arrhythmias are particularly significant to the safety of the rider and the horse during exercise, as abnormal heart beats may be the cause for exercise intolerance or collapse during exercise. Sound Equine medicine specialist service offers the possibility to record exercise ECG, where little electrodes are stuck to the surface of the horse’s body while he is being lunged or ridden. In some cases, an exercise ECG will also be needed to assess if a horse with heart murmur is safe to be ridden. In these cases, a cardiac ultrasound will probably be the first examination advised by your veterinarian.

For more information about our specialist services please call the office and ask to speak to Sophie Mosseri on 01483 811007.