Dilated cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart) in a dog can have numerous potential causes and many severe side effects. Here, our Stroudsburg vets list causes of this serious condition, symptoms, and treatment options.
What is DCM in dogs?
In dogs, an enlarged heart (also referred to as Dilated Cardiomyopathy). is a serious condition that refers to the expansion of the heart's lower chambers (ventricles) or, less frequently, the upper chamber (atria).
The heart is unable to contract properly and push blood to the rest of the body, causing expansion. Blood builds up inside the heart before pressure is put on the heart's valves and outer walls, expanding it. This leads to a thinning of the outer walls.
This makes it more difficult for your dog's heart to pump blood throughout the body and to the organs that require it. As the condition progresses, organs such as the lungs and kidneys will begin to fail. Dilated cardiomyopathy will become severe as the disease progresses.
Causes of an Enlarged Heart in Dogs
A dog of any age or breed can have an enlarged heart, but the condition is much more common in dogs between 4 and 10 years of age.
While there is no single cause of dilated myopathy, many factors can contribute to the condition developing in your pet. Taurine and carnitine deficiencies have been shown to influence the development of an enlarged heart in dogs.
In addition, other factors such as genetics and infectious diseases can play a role in cardiomyopathy in dogs. Some dog breeds - especially large breeds - are known to be predisposed to developing this condition due to taurine insufficiency. They include:
- 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.
When it comes to DCM in dogs and diet issues, therefore, rotate foods on a regular basis, switching between different brands of foods with different primary ingredients. Foods containing peas, potatoes, lentils, and other legume seeds as primary ingredients 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.
This is why it's imperative to bring your pooch in to see us.
Our board-certified internist is able to diagnose and treat challenging cases with access to numerous diagnostic tools and treatment methods.
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 may indicate to your veterinarian that your puppy has an enlarged heart, a final diagnosis will necessitate additional diagnostic testing to determine whether the above symptoms are caused by dilated cardiomyopathy.
A chest x-ray of your dog may reveal heart and lung abnormalities such as an abnormally large heart or the presence of fluid in the lungs. These are both strong indicators of dilated cardiomyopathy.
The electric impulses that cause your dog's heart to beat are monitored by this test. This test can detect heart conditions such as an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and an abnormally fast heartbeat (ventricular tachycardia).
This diagnostic test employs ultrasound to continuously monitor the movements and shape of your dog's heart. This test allows your veterinarian to examine your dog's heart for tinned muscle walls as well as the effectiveness of their heart's contractions. This is the definitive test for determining whether or not your canine companion has an enlarged heart.
Treatment of Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs
Treatment may vary depending on the underlying cause of the condition in your dog. If nutritional issues such as taurine deficiency have influenced its onset, treatment may begin with dietary changes and supplements.
Treatment usually consists of therapies and a variety of medications designed to strengthen your dog's heart and help with blood circulation. Dogs who are having difficulty breathing due to fluid in their lungs may require oxygen therapy until the fluid drains naturally from their lungs. Your veterinarian may also advise you to use a diuretic or drain the fluid manually.
However, the condition is not reversible. It often turns progressive and there is no cure, depending on the underlying cause of your dog's enlarged heart. In these cases, the vet will focus treatment on extending your furry friend's life and making it as comfortable as possible.
The long-term prognosis for DCM in dogs varies considerably. Unfortunately, most dogs with signs of congestive heart failure when they are diagnosed die as a result of the disease within 6 months. In the most severe cases, some dogs may survive only weeks to a few months. Sometimes, dogs may do well clinically for 1 to 2 years.
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.