DCM (dilated cardiomyopathy) in dogs is a life-threatening disease commonly found in certain dog breeds, but it can also develop in any dog breeds. Let’s take a look at the signs and treatment of DCM and its effect on the longevity of the affected dogs.
What’s DCM in dogs?
Dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs is a heart disease caused by the degeneration of the heart muscle. It weakens the heart’s contraction and disrupts its pumping ability.
DCM in dogs also increases blood pressure in the heart, resulting in the thinning of its walls and the enlargement of the organ. This can lead to congestive heart failure.
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What causes DCM in dogs?
The true cause of dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs remains unknown. However, several factors were associated with this heart disease, including:
The prevalence of DCM in dogs grows with age. This condition commonly affects dogs age 4–10 years.
Deficiency in Nutrition
However, it should be noted that the research findings show that not all dogs with taurine deficiency develop DCM, and not all dogs suffering from DCM have a taurine deficiency.
Genetics and Breed of Dogs
What dog breeds are prone to DCM? Large and giant breed dogs are found to be genetically predisposed to DCM except for Cocker spaniels. Smaller breeds rarely develop DCM, but the probability should not be ignored.
Below are the most common breeds of dogs affected by this heart disease:
- Cocker Spaniel
- Doberman Pinscher
- Finnish Hound
- Flat-Coated Retriever
- Giant Schnauzer
- Great Dane
- Irish Wolfhound
- Saint Bernard
- Scottish Deerhound
Overt DCM in dogs is more common in males than females. This is especially true for certain breeds such as the Great Dane.
What foods cause DCM in dogs? The FDA claims that BEG diets (boutique diets that have exotic ingredients, or grain-free diets) can cause DCM in dogs.
BEG diets commonly contain ingredients like barley, bison, buffalo, chickpeas, duck, fava beans, kangaroo, lamb, lentils, peas, salmon, tapioca, and venison.
However, recent studies suggest that BEG diets and grain-free foods are not the main culprits in inducing DCM in dogs.
Rather pet foods and diets that contain lentils, peas, potatoes, and other legume seeds as main ingredients increase the risk of DCM in dogs.
A high incidence of this heart problem was also observed in canines that were fed lamb-based diets. It is believed that this is due to the lack of taurine’s precursors—methionine and cysteine—in lamb meal. However, these findings are still widely debated.
Are grain-free diets bad for dogs? There is no definitive answer yet as the results of its link to DCM in dogs are considered inconclusive.
Various professionals including veterinarians, animal nutritionists, and veterinary nutritionists are working hand in hand to uncover if there is a connection between grain-free diets and DCM in dogs.
Though many vets will suggest that you switch your dog’s current diet to a grain diet if they have DCM.
What are the symptoms of DCM in dogs?
The clinical signs of DCM in dogs are:
- Rapid breathing
- Appetite loss
- Increased heart rate
- Weight loss
- Swollen stomach
- Sudden death
Note that these symptoms can occur suddenly or progressively. Pet owners should keep up with their pet’s yearly vet check-up, especially dogs that are on the list of breeds that are prone to this heart disease.
Early detection of DCM will help in prolonging the lives of affected dogs.
Some vets recommend that dog owners start their dogs’ heart check-ups when they’re 5 years old even if they do not show signs of the illness. This is because in many cases, the best treatment period has already been missed once the symptoms appear.
What are the stages of DCM in dogs?
Dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs can be divided into 3 stages. Here’s how each stage affects dogs suffering from this heart disease:
Stage 1: Affected dogs show no clinical signs of DCM.
Stage 2: Presence of the heart disease slowly becomes evident as abnormal heartbeats and heart dilation occur. However, clinical signs still remain absent. This stage can last up to 2–4 years.
Stage 3: Clinical signs of heart failure in affected canines begin to manifest during the final stages of DCM in dogs.
Can a dog recover from DCM?
Unfortunately, the chances of full recovery from dilated cardiomyopathy are slim to none. Whilst some dogs may react well to treatment, the disease will still develop progressively since it has no cure.
Unfortunately, dogs showing clinical signs of heart failure have a very poor prognosis.
How is DCM in dogs diagnosed?
The vet will run various tests to accurately diagnose DCM in dogs and rule out other possible diseases. A physical exam is one of the tests needed along with:
Routine Blood Work
The vet will carry out a biochemical profile, complete blood count, and urinalysis tests to check your dog’s blood concentration of taurine. If his taurine levels are lower than the normal range, he is very likely to be taurine-deficient.
Chest radiographs or X-rays help in detecting heart enlargement and the presence of fluid in the lungs.
This test can show if your dog has an irregular heart rhythm. At times, the use of a Holter monitor, which is a 24-hour EKG, is necessary to completely know the qualities of abnormal heart activity.
This test is critical in definitively diagnosing DCM in dogs. An echocardiogram inspects the heart muscle’s thickness. It also checks the ability of each heart chamber to pump blood.
Note that it would be best for a board-certified veterinary cardiologist to run the tests involving your dog’s heart to ensure accurate results. Talk to the vet and discuss the possibility of a referral to a specialist.
How to treat DCM in dogs?
As stated beforehand, the current state of veterinary medicine cannot cure this heart disease. Thus, DCM in dogs treatment aims to improve heart function and manage the signs of congestive heart failure instead.
The vet may refer dog owners whose pets have congestive heart failure to a veterinary cardiologist.
Together, they will work to make a treatment plant aiming to dilate the affected dog’s blood vessels, control fluid accumulation, and improve heart contractions.
To hinder or stall the developing DCM in affected dogs, the veterinary cardiologist may prescribe the following medications:
It helps stimulates the kidneys to make dogs urinate. This will get rid of excess fluid from their bodies. The most commonly used diuretic drugs in dogs are furosemide and spironolactone.
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
These minimise the pressure in the cardiovascular system by lowering blood pressure. In turn, the resistance to blood pumping out of the heart is reduced.
It is the only treatment known to prolong the lives of dogs with DCM. Canine ACE inhibitors commonly used for DCM treatment are enalapril and benazepril.
It also aids in lightening the workload of the cardiovascular system by dilating the veins or arteries in the body. This makes it easier for the heart to pump blood to various parts of the body.
Vasolidators are commonly a part of medical therapies in dogs with congestive heart failure due to DCM.
They support heart function by slowing down the heart rate and strengthening heart contractions. This allows blood to pump more properly throughout the body.
Digosin is the most common cardiac glycoside used on dogs. However, it may have toxic side effects, which is why close monitoring through routine blood tests and ECG analyses is needed.
It is a drug that eases the pressure in veins and arteries, thus enhancing heart muscle strength. Much like cardiac glycosides, it increases blood flow to the body.
Heart arrhythmias are a common symptom in dogs with DCM. Antiarrhythmic drugs are used to control this problem if the medications are not effective. This type of drug is divided into 2 main categories:
- Beta blockersDrugs commonly used in this group are atenolol, carvedilol, and sotalol.
- Calcium channel blockersDiltiazem is the most commonly administered medication from this group.
There are also anti-arrhythmic drugs primarily used for long-term treatment such as amiodarone, mexiletine, and procainamide.
They mainly help in preventing breathing difficulties in dogs with DCM. Popular bronchodilators for dogs are theophylline and aminophylline.
Dogs experiencing taurine deficiency will need to undergo dietary changes and switch to taurine-rich foods. They will also be given nutritional supplementation to increase their taurine levels.
How long can a dog live with DCM?
Dogs diagnosed with DCM have a bleak long-term prognosis. Dogs with DCM that developed a clinical sign of heart failure before given proper treatment may succumb to the disease within 6 months.
On the other hand, Doberman Pinschers tend to live up to 3 months only after being diagnosed with DCM. In rare cases, dogs who react well to the treatment can manage to live for 1–2 years.
How can I help my dog with DCM?
DCM in dogs is a serious condition that requires long-term management. Here are some things you can do to ease your dog’s hardship from the disease to offer them a good quality of life:
- Change your dog’s diet to one that does not have lentils, peas, potatoes, and other legume seeds as the main ingredients. It would be best if these do not belong to the top 5 or 10 primary ingredients list of the pet food.
- Avoid including exotic proteins in his diet too. Pet foods containing bison, duck, kangaroo, rabbit, and venison should only be used for allergy testing and treatment, and not as a regular meal.
- As much as possible, do not go for lamb-based diets unless they contain added taurine. Also, make sure that it is not high in legumes or low in proteins.
- Add more animal proteins that are rich in taurine and amino acids to his diet. Keep in mind that not all animal meats are good sources of this nutrient.Beef, goat, lamb, eggs, and dairy products have low levels of taurine. It would be best to go for poultry and fish since they are packed with taurine.Dark meats from chicken and turkey as well as certain animal organs such as the brain, heart, and liver are excellent sources of taurine too.
- Cut down the sodium content in your dog’s diet. High levels of sodium can increase his blood pressure.
- Consider omega-3 and L-carnitine supplements as these will improve your dog’s heart function.
- Never skip follow-up examinations as they are important to monitor the progression of your dog’s condition.
- Dogs with DCM that are under medications need to have check-ups every 4 months. The veterinary cardiologist will review the drug dosage during the check-up.
- DCM heart failure in dogs can suddenly occur. Thus, always be on the lookout for symptoms such as coughing, breathing difficulties, increased heart rate, and blue-tinged gums.
- Keep your dog at a healthy weight, not overweight but not too thin either. According to some canine cardiologists, dogs that are underweight tend to cope worse than dogs with a slightly heavier weight.
How to prevent DCM in dogs
The development of DCM in dogs due to genetics cannot be prevented. However, when it comes to diet-associated DCM, dog owners have a better chance of protecting their canine companions from it.
It primarily involves sticking with healthy and well-balanced pet food containing common ingredients, including grains.
However, it should have low amounts of lentils, peas, potatoes, and other legume seeds. Make sure that the pet food comes from a reputable company.
It is also important that your dog maintains a healthy body weight. Provide him with enough daily exercise to strengthen his body and boost his immune system.
Be sure to also follow the vet’s advice if they recommend making specific dietary changes. Lastly, regularly take your dog to the vet for a check-up to closely monitor any changes in his health.