Ultrasound examination of the horse's heart (echocardiography) is indicated for numerous reasons. The most common reason is following identification of a heart murmur by your veterinary surgeon. A murmur is an abnormal heart sound heard with a stethoscope that may be picked up during a prepurchase examination or routine check (eg vaccination). Alternatively, your vet may detect a murmur during investigation of poor performance or in a sick horse with a fever or sudden weight loss.

Heart murmurs are relatively common in normal, fit horses and are often not significant. However, it is not always possible to differentiate the significant murmurs from the innocuous ones just by listening with a stethoscope and therefore ultrasound is necessary to further assess the heart valves.

Echocardiography is not painful or invasive. If the horse has a thick coat the hair may need to be clipped (a small patch either side of the girth behind the elbow) to ensure a good contact and the best possible picture. In some cases, an exercising ECG may also be advised, depending on the echocardiography findings. 

 

               

             Left: mitral valve disease in a horse presenting with a heart murmur  

             Right: aortocardiac fistula