Symptoms of Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs

Dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs is a condition which causes enlargement of the chambers of the heart. Dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM, is very common, and is one of the primary causes of congestive heart failure in dogs. Here's what you should know about DCM.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy Explained

DCM is a condition in which the chambers of your dog's heart become dilated, or expand. The left ventricle of the heart is usually the most affected, though the disease can affect all four chambers of your dog's heart. The disease can cause heart arrhythmias and murmurs. It can also cause leakage around the valves of the heart, leading to the build up of fluids in the chest and abdominal cavities; when fluids build up around the heart, your dog is at risk for congestive heart failure.

Risk Factors for Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs

Dilated cardiomyopathy is most common in the larger breeds of dog. Male dogs contract this disease more often than female dogs. Breeds prone to this disorder include:

  • Irish wolfhounds
  • Great Danes
  • Dalmatians
  • Portuguese water dogs
  • English and American cocker spaniels
  • Old English Sheepdogs
  • Newfoundlands
  • Saint Bernards

Most dogs develop this disease between four and ten years of age. DCM is a life threatening disease with a high mortality rate.

Causes of Dilated Cardimyopathy in Dogs

DCM is believed to be an hereditary condition in most dogs. However, some breeds, such as Dalmations, Cocker Spaniels and Golden Retrievers, can develop this condition due to dietary deficiencies.

Symptoms of Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs

If your dog develops dilated cardiomyopathy, he'll begin to tire very easily after only a small amount of exercise. He'll experience coughing and shortness of breath, often leading to collapse. He could appear lethargic and depressed and experience decreases in appetite. If fluid begins to build up in his chest or abdominal cavity, his abdomen could become distended.

Diagnosing Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs

Your vet will need a complete medical history and thorough physical exam in order to diagnose dilated cardiomyopathy. Chest X-rays and EKGs can help your vet evaluate the extent of the damage to your dog's heart. Blood pressure measurements can help your vet determine how much strength your dog's heart beat retains. Ultrasounds and biochemical profiles can help your vet evaluate the extent of damage to your dog's other organs.

Treating Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs

If your dog has developed congestive heart failure as a result of DCM, diuretics and enzyme inhibitors can help him expel the excess fluid. Your dog will need to make dietary changes; reducing sodium intake helps to relieve the symptoms of dilated cardiomyopathy, as does the use of nutritional supplements like L-carnitine or taurine. If your dog has developed arrhythmia, your vet may prescribe drugs to regulate the electrical impulses that control your dog's heart beat. Your vet can also prescribe medications, including enzyme and beta blockers, to prevent further damage to your dog's heart; these drugs are particularly effective if your dog's dilated cardiomyopathy is diagnosed early in its progression.