Havanese dog with a red heart.

A common cause of heart disease in large-to-giant dog breeds, dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) can affect certain dogs in middle age and senior years. Rare in cats and small dogs, DCM may have nutritional links in addition to possible genetic ones. To provide the best possible care to your dog, it’s always important to stay in front of both known and unknown risk factors. Dilated cardiomyopathy is a significant illness to be aware of to prevent and treat developing symptoms.

What IS DCM?

Dilated cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart muscle stops contracting the way it should. This causes the blood to pool up inside the chambers of the heart and, in turn, stretches out the heart muscle. 

This failure typically affects the left side of the heart, but it can impact the entire heart muscle, or even just the right side. Persistent pressure on the heart’s left side can lead to congestive heart failure or pulmonary edema (fluid build up within the lungs). If this occurs on the right side, congestive heart failure may be characterized by the abdomen and/or the chest cavity filling up with fluid.

Because blood and fluid pool up in and around the heart, symptoms of DCM may include:

  • Coughing
  • Labored breathing
  • Appetite loss
  • Pale gums
  • Increased heart rate
  • Weakness
  • Collapse

Why Does This Happen?

The exact cause of DCM is not fully understood. That said, there are known genetic links among the majority of cases of DCM. Breeds that commonly develop DCM include:

  • Great dane
  • Doberman pinscher
  • Boxer
  • Saint Bernard
  • Irish wolfhound

There is also a link to a deficiency of the amino acid taurine, especially in cocker spaniels. While DCM symptoms can be treated with nutritional intervention, not all cases will respond to taurine supplementation.

Testing and Treatment

If symptoms are observed, a physical exam may naturally result in the following diagnostics:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Echocardiogram or ultrasound
  • X-rays of the chest

Depending on the stage of dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs, it is possible to see abnormalities on one test and receive a normal reading on another. Ongoing monitoring of the heart may be necessary for conclusive diagnosis. 

Based on the clinical signs of a DCM case, treatment may vary. It is possible to get positive results from diuretics (causing a decrease in fluid build up) and medications that enable increased blood flow or enhance the heart’s contractions. 

Supplements, including omega-3 fatty acids, taurine, and L-carnitine may promote heart health.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs

Except for taurine deficient cases, DCM is progressive and irreversible. Prognosis depends on the stage and overall health of the dog. We are open and available to support your dog on every step of this journey. 

If you have further questions or concerns about dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs, please reach out to us at (732) 387-7977. Mobile Vet M.D. is always happy to help.