The Kennel Club Survey of 2004 showed heart disease to be the most common cause of death in whippets after old age. The incidence across the whole breed is not really known but breeders are wisely beginning to test their dogs before breeding
All dogs should be over 12 months of age before testing, this ensures the dogs heart is fully mature and rules out puppy murmers which can disappear with age
There are currently three types of test available, whichever test is deemed appropriate for your situation ALL must be carried out by a certified Cardiologist Vet. A simple stethescope test by a General Practice vet is not sufficient to declare your whippet heart healthy.
Sighthounds have athletic hearts, somewhat larger than other breeds with consequently different test results, what may be normal for a whippet would be cause for alarm in other breeds.
Therefore to use a Cardiologist experienced in sighthounds would be ideal, failing this reference values for whippet hearts are available (see link) which may help your Cardiologist interpret the results specific to whippets
A certificate of Heart health will be issued at the time of testing ,and will detail the type of test and the result. If a breeder has declared the parents of a litter heart tested then the potential buyer MUST insist on seeing the certificates, genuine breeders will be more than happy to explain the results.
This test involves the cardiologist using a stethescope to listen for any abnormal sounds in your whippets heart. The room must be quiet and the dog given time to relax before the exam.
Your Cardiologist will then detail any murmers (abnormal sounds) found and grade them 1 to 6.
Grade One.... Soft murmur difficult to hear
Grade two.....Soft murmur easily heard
Grade Three...Moderately intense no vibration
Grade Four.. Loud murmur, none or intermittent vibration
Grade Five.....Loud murmur with vibration, not audible when stethescope removed from chest
Grade Six.......Loud murmur with vibration that can be heard when stethoscope is lifted from chest
A murmur is however only a symptom of disease and needs further investigation to find the cause, this is when the other tests will be necessary to discover which part of the heart involved and the seriousness of the disease.
Once this is identified then decisions can be made as to whether the dog should be taken out of any breeding program
Simple ausculation even when performed by an experienced cardiologist is not a difinitive test, problems have been missed using this test alone and a full diagnosis cannot be made without further tests
This examination will give the Cardiologist a Two Dimensional picture of the heart , many problems can be identified but sometimes a Three Dimensional picture may be needed along with measurement of blood flow rates, a Doppler Exam is then needed
This examination is the ultimate , not only will it reveal the cause of any murmur found when ausculated but if your dog tests clear with this you can be SURE your whippet is heart healthy.This is especially important where breeding animals are concerned, Stud dogs in particular can sire many many puppies in their lifetime....it is a sensible breeder that uses this test to ensure heart health in such a dog.
As well as a Three Dimensional picture of the heart this test measures the blood flow from and through each heart valve. These flow rates can be compared to reference values in healthy whippets to enable a diagnosis to be made.
In summary you may decide to have your whippet ausculation tested, then if a murmur is found to have the full Doppler test to diagnose the cause
The ausculation is relatively inexpensive making it possible to test not only breeding stock but also older dogs in your kennel. This will give a good idea of general heart health in your dogs
All dogs should be tested more than once in their lifetime as heart disease can change quickly, what was a grade 1 murmur at 12 months can become a grade 5 murmur at 4 years old
The Doppler test is expensive BUT if you have a stud dog that will be used on many bitches and his genes become widespread or if you have known or suspected heart problems in lines of the dogs being bred then this test is really a MUST before breeding. Missing some vital signs by having the less expensive test will be something future whippets and their owners have to live with .