The Wanderer.

Understanding Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs

August 14, 2019

If you read our recent article on the potential link between certain brands of grain-free dog food and canine heart failure, it hopefully gave you a better understanding of dog nutrition and the role it plays in your pet’s overall health.

In this post we want to dive a little bit deeper into diet-associated dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), clearing up any misconceptions about it being caused solely by grain-free diets.

Is Dilated Cardiomyopathy Common in Dogs?

Cardiomyopathy is degeneration of the heart muscle, which causes the muscle to become thinner, especially the left ventricle’s thick wall. DCM results when blood pressure causes the thin walls to stretch, enlarging the heart.

Smaller dog breeds rarely develop DCM, and it is more common in males than females. It is, however, the most common cause of heart failure in large breeds of dogs like Boxers, Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Dobermans, and Irish Wolfhounds. Less common are medium-sized breeds like Spaniels and Portuguese Water Dogs.

What Are the Signs of DCM?

Often, the only clue early on is a dog’s reduced tolerance for exercise. Your vet might also detect a soft heart murmur or an irregular heart rhythm during a routine checkup, but these signs are more likely to occur at a more advanced stage.

As a dog’s heart pumping ability weakens, blood pressure increases, and lung congestion develops behind the left ventricle. Weakness, fainting, and sadly, sudden death, can result. Signs a dog has heart failure caused by DCM include:

  • Easy tiring.
  • Reduced exercise ability.
  • Increased breathing rate or excess panting and coughing.

Some dogs also exhibit abdominal enlargement due to fluid buildup in the chest or abdomen. If your dog displays any of these signs, a prompt visit to your veterinarian is in order.

DCM and Role of Taurine in Your Dog’s Diet

The July 2019 FDA alert to pet owners and veterinarians about DCM reported that a meaningful number of affected dogs were found to have reduced levels of circulating taurine in their blood.

What is taurine and why does your dog need it?

Taurine is a beta-amino sulfonic acid that is primarily found as a free amino acid in body tissue and circulating in the blood. Two of its most important functions are maintaining normal heart function and digesting fat.

Most research in this field has been done on cats (who need a supplement in their diet) but those studies have provided valuable information on why certain breeds of dogs might have a taurine deficiency that must also be addressed through diet and supplements. Though the jury is still out on whether the current grain-free craze bears some responsibility for reduced levels of taurine, it’s worth talking to your vet about your pet’s current nutrition plan.

Treating Your Dog’s DCM

If the vet diagnoses your pet with DCM there are several treatments that can be prescribed.

  • Diuretics help the kidneys remove excess body fluid.
  • ACE inhibitors lower your pet’s blood pressure and are the only proven method to extend a dog’s life expectancy.
  • Individual drugs that slow the heart rate, dilate the arteries, make breathing easier, improve heart muscle strength, and control arrhythmias.

Unfortunately, DCM is not reversible, but quick diagnosis and proper care can help your dog enjoy a happier life. If you notice signs of DCM in your dog, talk to your vet about getting her or him the highest standard of care. They deserve it!