Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in Dogs

Overview of Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)

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

Symptoms of Dilated Cardiomyopathy in dogs may include:

Diagnosis of Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in Dogs

Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize dilated cardiomyopathy and exclude all other diseases. Tests may include:

Treatment of Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in Dogs

Home Care and Prevention

In-depth Information on Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in Dogs

DCM is thought to be the result of diverse processes that affect heart muscle cell function. The vast majority of cases of DCM are idiopathic, which means they have no known cause and are probably predisposed by genetic factors. Causes may include:

Diagnosis In-depth of Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy

A complete medical history should be obtained and your veterinarian should complete a thorough physical examination. Medical tests are needed to establish the diagnosis, exclude other diseases, and determine the impact of this disorder on your pet. The following diagnostic tests are often recommended:

Therapy In-depth of Caine Dilated Cardiomyopathy

The principles of therapy depend on the presentation or current condition of the pet. If symptoms are severe, hospital therapy is necessary. Precise treatments depend on the problems caused but may include: treatment of congestive heart failure, control of an arrhythmia or abnormal heart rhythms, management of kidney failure, treatment of low blood pressure or shock caused by severe heart failure, or treatment of complications of thrombosis (blood clots).

Follow-up Care for Dogs with Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)

Optimal treatment for your dog with dilated cardiomyopathy requires a combination of home care and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be critical. Administer prescribed medication and alert your veterinarian if you are experiencing problems treating your pet. Optimal follow-up care often involves the following:


The prognosis for dogs with DCM is guarded. From diagnosis, the average survival time is 3 months to 2 years.