Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy DCM

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Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a disease of the heart muscle which causes the heart to enlarge and not function properly.

The cause is still unknown, but it is believed that it may be at least partly genetic in nature.

DCM usually affects larger breeds of dogs and is common in the Doberman Pinscher, Scottish Deerhound, Boxer, Newfoundland, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever and the Irish Wolfhound. It is also sometimes seen the English Cocker Spaniel and the American Cocker Spaniel and can rarely be seen in smaller breeds as well.

Symptoms Of Dilated Cardiomyopathy:

Symptoms of DCM usually appear between 4 and 10 years of age. As the chambers of the heart enlarge and the heart loses its ability to pump blood properly, heart failure occurs.

Symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Tiring on exercise.
  • Deep, dry coughing.
  • Heavy, labored breathing.
  • Restlessness or lethargy.
  • Weight loss.
  • Enlarged abdomen and/or swollen, puffy legs.
  • Cyanosis-blue discoloration of the tongue and lips.
  • Fainting spells.

Diagnosis Of Dilated Cardiomyopathy:

Diagnosing DCM will involve a physical examination of your dog by your dog’s veterinarian.

Diagnostic imaging, such as radiographs (x-rays) of your dog’s chest and/or ultrasound studies of the chest, may be necessary to reach an accurate diagnosis.

An electrocardiogram (EKG) may be necessary to rule out arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat rhythms).

Blood tests may be necessary to evaluate your dog’s overall condition and make certain that medications recommended for treating the heart condition can be tolerated by your dog.

Your dog’s veterinarian may also recommend monitoring your dog’s blood pressure for hypertension (high blood pressure).

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An ocular (eye) examination may also be indicated, as hypertension frequently results from cardiomyopathy and can cause damage to the eyes.

Prognosis For Dilated Cardiomyopathy:

The prognosis for dogs with DCM varies.

Dogs exhibiting signs of heart failure associated with DCM generally succumb to the disease within 6 months to 2 years.

In some cases, especially in those with a severe form of the disease, death may result much more quickly.

Treatment Of Dilated Cardiomyopathy:

Treatmentis generally aimed at improving the heart’s ability to function and controlling the symptoms of congestive heart failure. Your veterinarian will be able to determine which medications are best suited to your dog’s needs.

Recommended medications may help your dog’s heart pump more effectively, as well as treating the fluid “build-up” in the lungs that occurs as a result of heart failure.

Your dog’s veterinarian may advise medications aimed at

  • helping the heart to pump more efficiently, such as digoxin, and/or
  • medications to help control some of the symptoms associated with congestive heart failure, such as furosemide, a diruretic which helps relieve the “back-up” of fluid within the lungs. Spironolactone is another diuretic which may be used in addition to or in place of furosemide.

Other medications frequently used are

  • angiotension converting enzyme inhibitors, such as enalapril or benazepril, which help the heart pump more effectively against the pressure in the veins and arteries and help to prevent sodium (salt) retention.
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Severe cases may require hospitalization and oxygen supplementation through the use of an oxygen mask or cage.

Other drugs utilized in the treatment of dilated cardiomyopathy are aimed at controlling cardiac arrhythmias (electrical disturbances in the heart).  Arrhythmias can be very problematic in some cases of DCM and can even be life threatening.

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