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Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs (DCM)

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a disease characterized by dilation or enlargement of the heart chambers and markedly reduced contraction. The left ventricle is most always involved. Advanced cases demonstrate dilation of all cardiac chambers.

DCM is very common in dogs, representing the most common reason for congestive heart failure (CHF). This heart disease also can cause heart valve leakage causing heart murmurs or abnormal electrical activity of the heart-producing arrhythmias (irregular or abnormal heartbeats). Large and giant breed dogs, especially males, are predisposed. Doberman pinschers, Irish wolfhounds, Scottish Deerhound, boxer, Afghan hound, Old English Sheepdog, Great Danes, Dalmatians, Newfoundlands, and Saint Bernards are common breeds. English and American cocker spaniel breeds and Portuguese water dogs also develop DCM.

The clinical condition of canine DCM can range from overtly healthy (occult disease) to severe heart failure. Some dogs experience primary electrical disturbances (arrhythmia) such as atrial fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia.

The disease is thought to be genetic in Doberman pinschers, Irish wolfhounds, Newfoundlands, boxers, and Portuguese water dogs. The disease is sometimes seen in Dalmatians fed a low protein diet and in cocker spaniels and gold retrievers with taurine deficiency.

The average age of onset is 4 to 10 years, although Portuguese water dogs can acquire the disease when very young.

DCM is very serious and the mortality rate, even of treated cases, is very high.

What to Watch For

  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Collapse
  • Abdominal distension
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite

    The advent of these problems should alert you that a serious emergency is at hand.

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