Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in Dogs

What is Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)?

  • Heart muscle disease that causes loss of heart muscle strength, enlargement of the heart, and a decreased ability to pump blood through the body(heart failure).
  • Dilated Cardiomyopathy affects any age dog, but occurrence increases with age.
  • Heart failure can be compared to a common pump. If the sump pump in your basement fails, water backs up into the basement; if the left heart fails, fluid backs up into the lungs; if the right heart fails, fluid backs up in the belly.
  • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmias/abnormal electrical activity) can be a life threatening complication of this disease.

What causes DCM?

  • Many forms of Dilated cardiomyopathy occur in families of dogs. The exact genes and/or modes of inheritance have not been fully defined and research on this continues. Genetic mutations have been identified in some breeds of dog. The identification of all genes in all at risk breeds and modes of inheritance are not fully understood.
  • Certain forms of Dilated Cardiomyopathy have been associated with certain types of diets or dietary deficiencies.
  • Doberman Pinscher and Great Dane are often affected.

How is DCM Diagnosed?

  • Through a cardiac evaluation and echocardiogram (sonogram of the heart) performed by a board-certified dog cardiologist like those at CVCA.
  • Holter monitors are often required to check the dog’s heart rhythm over 24 hours. These devices are worn by the patient in a small backpack and usually are well tolerated.

How is DCM in Dogs Treated?

  • The specific treatment is tailored to the individual patient.
  • Oral medications are most commonly used and many are the same as those used for people with heart disease.
  • Modification of the diet or dietary supplements may be recommended as part of the management of DCM.
  • Therapy improves the heart’s ability to pump and controls the signs of congestive heart failure.
  • Treatment extends the life of the patient while allowing the pet excellent quality of life.
  • Some patients also need medications to improve their heart rhythm. These medications are crucial to minimize the risk of arrhythmias and sudden death.
Echocardiogram of a heart
Echocardiogram of a heart affected by DCM, primarily of the left side of the heart. This standardized view depicts the heart upside down with black representing the blood within the heart. Note the thin walls and large lumen of the left ventricle (LV) and enlarged left atrium (LA).
thin left ventricular wall
Note the thin left ventricular wall (LVW), dilated LV chamber, and depiction of decreased forward blood flow with DCM.