Idiopathic Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs

Dilated cardiomyopathy is one of the leading causes of congestive heart failure in dogs. Although it primarily affects larger breeds, it may strike at any time and in any animal. For this reason, the condition is often termed idiopathic, or arising without prior warning or sign. Cardiomyopathies are manageable with certain medicines, and it is possible for a dog with this condition to live a relatively normal and healthy life. However, you as the owner must be aware of the complications of the condition as well as the symptoms and treatment methods, in order to best protect your pet.

Overview of Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated cardiomyopathy refers to an enlargement of the heart muscles. The result is that the various muscles of the heart are unable to contract as they should, and the heart itself becomes unable to pump adequate blood throughout the body. The condition ranges from mild to seriously life-threatening. More often than not, dilated cardiomyopathy strikes larger breeds of dogs after about 5 years of age. Some of the most commonly affected breeds are Newfoundlands, Dalmations, German Pinschers, Saint Bernards and Great Danes. However, other types of dogs may be afflicted with this condition as well. Portuguese Water Dogs are unusual in their predisposition to dilated cardiomyopathies, and tend to develop the condition earlier in life than those larger breeds.

Symptoms of Dilated Cardiomyopathy

A cardiomyopathy may not manifest symptoms until it has progressed to a dangerous level. By the time your pet presents any signs of a health problem, his condition may have already deteriorated drastically. For this reason, it's crucial that you monitor your dog's health closely and that you respond as quickly as possible at the first sign of any of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing, either after minimal exercise or even while lying or sitting down
  • Distension of the stomach
  • Coughing
  • Loss of appetite or weight
  • Lethargy

If you detect any of these warning signs, take your pet in to the veterinarian for immediate examination. Diagnosis of dilated cardiomyopathy typically requires a physical examination and medical history check as well as one or more tests to determine the workings of the heart muscles themselves. An electrocardiogram is the most common of these tests, though your vet may also conduct x-rays, radiographs or other related tests too.

Treating Dilated Cardiomyopathy

There are a range of different cardiomyopathies, each requiring unique treatment. The goal of treatment is to regulate any electrical arrhythmias in your dog's heart and to return the muscle to normal size if possible. Generally, one of a variety of medicines will prove useful in your pet's case. Your veterinarian can help to determine which is right for your pet.

Treatment also involves a close monitoring of your dog's diet and exercise levels. It is crucial that you adhere to any guidelines laid out by your veterinarian, as failure to do so may put your pet's health at additional risk.

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a serious medical condition, but with prompt diagnosis and treatment you may find that your dog is able to continue living a normal life in spite of this condition.