Dilated cardiomyopathy or DCM is an acquired heart disease that most commonly affects large and giant breed dogs. DCM is a disease that causes the heart muscle to become weak and contract poorly. Because the heart cannot pump blood efficiently, the heart dilates, the pressure builds up inside the heart, which can then lead to heart enlargement and ultimately congestive heart failure, or a fluid accumulation secondary to the advanced disease. Fluid can occur within the lungs (pulmonary edema), or in body cavities such as around the lungs (pleural effusion), in the belly (ascites), or even small volumes around the heart (pericardial effusion). In some dogs, sudden death can be the first sign of this disease. There is a genetic predisposition in certain breeds such as the Doberman Pinscher, Great Dane, and Boxer, as well as others. DCM can also be caused by a nutritional, specifically taurine, deficiency. Taurine is an amino acid required for development and function of the heart muscle. Currently, it is supplemented in commercial diets so deficiencies are not as common today; although, testing for taurine deficiency may be recommended in some cases that aren’t genetically predisposed following diagnosis. Once in congestive heart failure and showing signs of their disease, dogs usually survive 6 months to a year with proper monitoring, follow up care, and medication regime. Sudden death can occur at any time despite control of their signs. If detected early as part of a screening program, the occult (asymptomatic) stage can be prolonged with appropriate medications.
Signs your pet may be in congestive heart failure include lethargy, restlessness, difficulty breathing, increased cough, weakness, collapse, fainting, and decreased appetite. If any of these are seen, please seek veterinary attention immediately.