Dilated cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart) in a dog can have numerous potential causes and many severe side effects. Here, our Ventura vets list causes of this serious condition, symptoms and treatment options.
What is DCM in dogs?
Dilated Cardiomyopathy, also known as an enlarged heart, is a severe condition that involves the expansion of the ventricles or, less commonly, the atria in dogs.
The heart's inability to contract properly results in an inadequate pumping of blood throughout the body, leading to expansion. The heart fills with blood, which then exerts pressure on its valves and outer walls, causing it to expand. The outer walls become thinner as a result.
When this occurs, it becomes increasingly challenging for your dog's heart to circulate blood throughout the body, reaching the organs that require it. As this condition progresses, the lungs and kidneys may start to malfunction. Dilated cardiomyopathy will become severe as the disease progresses.
Causes of an Enlarged Heart in Dogs
Enlarged hearts can affect dogs of any age or breed, although it tends to be more prevalent in dogs aged 4 to 10 years.
There is no definitive cause for dilated myopathy, but several factors can contribute to its development in your pet. Taurine and carnitine deficiencies have been shown to impact the development of an enlarged heart in dogs.
Furthermore, genetics and infectious diseases can also contribute to the development of cardiomyopathy in dogs. Certain dog breeds, particularly larger ones, have a higher likelihood of developing this condition due to a lack of taurine. Here are some examples:
- American Cocker Spaniels
- English Setter
- Golden Retriever
- Labrador Retriever
- Saint Bernard
While other breeds are genetically prone to DCM, they are not linked to taurine deficiency. These include:
- Irish Wolfhounds
- Great Danes
- Doberman Pinschers
If your dog is one of these breeds, take more caution about what you're feeding than the average dog owner. The longer you feed your dog the same food, the more likely he or she will be impacted by any excesses or nutritional deficiencies it contains.
Therefore, when it comes to DCM in dogs and diet issues, rotate foods regularly, changing between different brands of foods with different primary ingredients. Foods with primary ingredients of peas, potatoes, lentils and other legume seeds have been linked to the condition.
What are the signs of DCM in dogs?
Signs of dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs may range from mild to severe as the condition progresses.
This disease is often difficult to diagnose in its early stages, as early symptoms of DCM in dogs do not often appear. There is sometimes a long pre-clinical phase. That said, your vet may be able to identify subtle or hidden signs of the condition during a physical examination.
These are some of the most common symptoms of DCM in dogs:
- Labored breathing
- Abdominal distension
- Sudden collapse
- Irregular or weak pulse
- Heart murmur
- Muffled breathing or crackling sound while breathing
Diagnosing an Enlarged Heart in Dogs
While a routine physical examination can suggest to your vet that your pup may have an enlarged heart, a final diagnosis will require further diagnostic testing to determine if the above symptoms are a result of dilated cardiomyopathy.
Your dog's chest x-ray might show some irregularities in their heart and lungs, like an unusually enlarged heart or the presence of fluid in the lungs. Dilated cardiomyopathy can be indicated by both of these factors.
This test tracks the electric impulses that make your dog's heart beat. This method can detect heart issues like an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and a fast heartbeat (ventricular tachycardia).
We use ultrasound to monitor your dog's heart movements and shape in real-time during this diagnostic test. Your vet can use this test to check your dog's heart for any issues with the muscle walls and the effectiveness of their heart contractions. Take this test to find out if your furry friend has an enlarged heart.
Treatment of Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs
The condition in your dog may require different treatments depending on its underlying cause. Dietary changes and supplements may be used to start treatment if nutritional issues, like taurine deficiency, have played a role in its onset.
Treatment typically includes therapies and various medications that aim to strengthen your dog's heart, helping improve blood circulation. Dogs with breathing difficulties caused by fluid in their lungs may need oxygen therapy until the fluid naturally drains from their lungs. Your vet may also prescribe a diuretic to drain the fluid or manually perform this procedure.
Unfortunately, the condition cannot be reversed. Progressive changes are common and a cure may not be available, depending on the cause of your dog's enlarged heart. In these cases, the vet will prioritize treatment to prolong your furry friend's life and ensure their comfort.
The prognosis for DCM in dogs can vary significantly over time. Regrettably, the majority of dogs diagnosed with signs of congestive heart failure succumb to the disease within 6 months. Some dogs may only survive weeks to a few months in the most severe cases. Dogs may clinically do well for 1 to 2 years at times.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.
Are you seeing signs of DCM or other illness in your dog? If symptoms listed here or others have you concerned, contact our Ventura veterinary team right away. At Veterinary Medical and Surgical Group (VMSG) we are passionate about providing your pet with the care they need.
Your veterinary specialist in VenturaWe're always accepting new patients, so contact our veterinary hospital today to book your pet's first appointment.
Related Articles View All
Most dogs are given anesthesia when they are spayed or neutered, and the majority of them will require it at least once throughout their lives. Our four-legged pets, like us, may require anesthesia as part of a surgery or procedure. Today, our Ventura vets discuss what you should know about anesthesia for dogs.
At Veterinary Medical and Surgical Group (VMSG) in Ventura, our board-certified veterinary neurologists use our in-house MRI to help diagnose a range of health issues in dogs from a ruptured cranial cruciate ligament to brain tumors. Today our vets explain why MRI scans for dogs can be helpful, and the conditions this technology can help diagnose.
FHO surgery can be an effective and relatively inexpensive surgical treatment option for hip problems in cats. Today, our Ventura vets describe the hip anatomy of cats, hip problems that could affect your kitty and what’s involved in FHO surgery and recovery.
Cataracts prevent light from reaching the retina of your dog, resulting in blurred vision and, ultimately, blindness. In today's blog, our Ventura veterinarians discuss the causes and symptoms of canine cataracts, as well as the surgery used to treat this eye condition.
Conditions that necessitate immediate medical attention in pets can arise in the same way that they do in humans. Ventura veterinarians explain when emergency care is necessary and what to do in those situations.