Canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a cardiac disease that results in a decreased ability of the heart to generate pressure to pump blood through a dog’s vascular system. The cause of canine DCM is subject to debate. However, a number of common factors including nutritional, infectious, and genetic predisposition are known to occur. Dog breeds that have a predisposition to DCM include the Doberman Pinscher, Great Dane, Boxer, Saint Bernards, German Shepherds, and Cocker Spaniel. DCM tends to affect larger breeds of dogs. Small breeds rarely develop DCM. It is more often diagnosed in males than females. Read on to learn about the signs of DCM in dogs as well as some of the causes.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating a potential dietary link between DCM and dogs eating certain grain-free dog foods. The primary ingredients in the dog foods of concern are those containing legumes such as peas or lentils, legume seeds, or potatoes.
Signs of DCM in Dogs
DCM may have a sudden onset of signs. However, the disease actually develops slowly and subtly. Some dogs may develop severe congestive heart failure (CHF) in only a few hours. Rapid, heavy breathing, a blue tongue, excessive drooling, or collapse may be the first signs.
Signs may be sudden or progressive in onset. Annual checkups with your veterinarian may lead to a diagnosis of heart problems before clinical signs are present (this is the best time to diagnose a problem). Signs can include:
- rapid breathing when resting or sleeping (more than 30-35 breaths per minute)
- reduced exercise ability and tiring quickly
- increased effort associated with breathing
- restless sleeping; moving around a lot and changing positions
- coughing or gagging
- reduced ability to exercise
- collapse or fainting
- decreased appetite
- weight loss
- distended belly
- depressed attitude or quiet and not interactive
A cardiac exam by a veterinarian can detect abnormal heart sounds. Or, other signs of heart failure. Usually chest x-rays, an electrocardiogram (ECG), and echocardiogram are performed to confirm a suspected diagnosis and to assess the severity of it. Echocardiography also can be used to screen for early DCM in breeds with a higher incidence of the disease.
What can be done if your pet has DCM?
The diagnosis and treatment of DCM should be determined by a veterinarian. There are different medications that are prescribed to treat this serious disease. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees when it comes to medicine. DCM is a serious disease that must be accurately diagnosed and treated. Some dogs with DCM do well with treatment for a period of time; however, some dogs will never resume a normal lifestyle. Your veterinarian will guide you through the diagnostic and treatment process to ensure that your pet receives the highest standard of care.
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