Albeit an extremely rare canine heart condition, DCM in dogs is getting a lot of attention. The main reason for this is the increase of DCM that has happened over the past 5-10 years. But even with the increase in the number of DCM cases, the disease is still very rare and your pet is unlikely to ever suffer from DCM.
Certain breeds are highly predisposed to the disease, such as Great Danes, Boxers, Dobermans, and Saint Bernards. Whether or not you own one of these breeds, understanding DCM is something that every dog owner should do. It is the best way to take preventative measures against DCM and ensure that your canine lives a happy and healthy life.
Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy
DCM is short for canine dilated cardiomyopathy. It is a cardiovascular disease that affects the heart muscles, specifically the lower ventricles that are responsible for pumping blood to the rest of the body. Although this is a heart disease, over time DCM can also affect the way the lungs and kidneys function. As the heart continues to weaken, fluid may begin to build up in certain tissues, including the lungs and kidneys.
When left untreated, DCM can be life-threatening. The weakened heart muscle becomes too overwhelmed by the buildup of fluid in the body’s tissues, which eventually leads to congestive heart failure. All pet owners should be aware of the most common DCM symptoms, which include lethargy, appetite loss, coughing, wheezing, and panting. A distended abdomen from fluid buildup is also possible.
Diagnosis and Treatment of DCM
If your pet is experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, it is time to schedule a veterinary checkup. DCM screening can be complex and costly, but it is the only way to determine if DCM is actually present. The first step of the screening process is an EKG (electrocardiogram) which can detect irregular or rapid heartbeats in canines.
An X-ray can determine if the ventricular walls of the heart are dilated, which is the ultimate sign that a dog is suffering from DCM. An X-Ray can also show if there is fluid buildup in the lungs. For the diagnosis to be definitive, the last step is to perform an ultrasound of the heart, also called an echocardiogram. PetMD says that “in the case of DCM, an echocardiogram will reveal enlargement of one or more heart chambers, along with decreased contractile ability of the heart muscle.”
Once DCM has been officially diagnosed with the 3 procedures mentioned above, the proper course of treatment can be determined. Treatment mostly depends on how far the DCM has progressed. If it has gone on too long, the best course of treatment is to keep your canine as comfortable as possible.
But when caught early enough, a dog can live for years with the right combination of medication. “Except in cases where a dog is severely affected by the disease, long-term hospitalization should not be necessary,” says PetMD.