Dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM, which is also very commonly referred to as enlarged heart, is an ailment that causes a dog’s heart to grow and struggle to pump blood effectively.
Typically, dilated cardiomyopathy affects the left ventricle of the heart -- the chamber that is in charge of removing blood from the lungs. In an enlarged state with diminished functionality, the heart’s inability to pump properly leads to fluids gathering in the lungs of the dog. In rarer circumstances, DCM can occur on the right side of a dog’s heart -- this will lead to fluids gathering in other organs of the body.
Dilated cardiomyopathy is one of the main causes of chronic heart failure. Find out more about the risk factors leading to an enlarged heart, symptoms of DCM, and the treatment options.
Dilated cardiomyopathy occurs mainly in larger dogs, although smaller dogs can also have the disease. Some breeds are predisposed to developing enlarged hearts because of genetics, such as Doberman Pinschers, Irish Wolfhounds, and Great Danes. For two smaller breed dogs with a predisposition to the disease -- Cocker Spaniels and Boxers -- nutritional problems like a deficiency in taurine may lead to DCM. Dilated cardiomyopathy typically develops in older dogs, although exceptions can occur, resulting in young or middle aged dogs developing the condition, particularly when the cause is more rooted in a nutritional issue rather than a breed disposition.
Your dog may not show signs of dilated cardiomyopathy during the early stages. Once they do, the most common symptom they develop is a decrease in energy -- dogs may become lethargic and show less enthusiasm about exercise. Dogs may also have trouble breathing, display an increased heart rate, and lose interest in eating.
Part of the diagnosis for dilated cardiomyopathy involves ruling out other potential diseases that could be causing your dog’s symptoms. Along with a standard physical examination, your vet may do an EKG and take x-rays, providing evidence of the heart’s enlarged size, as well as potentially show fluid buildup.
Once DCM is diagnosed, the treatment involves reducing the key indicators of the illness – such as the increased heart rate, enlarged size of the heart, and fluid buildup. The two main types of medications used to treat dilated cardiomyopathy are ACE inhibitors, which help the blood to flow more smoothly, and diuretics, which can reduce the fluid buildup. For dogs that are experiencing DCM as a result of nutritional deficiencies, supplements like taurine are frequently recommended.
With treatment, the symptoms of DCM can be regulated; and while the long term prognosis is generally not great, some dogs will live for several years post-diagnosis.
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