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Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Improvements in available health care has many pets living longer than previous life expectancy estimates. Not only this but informational sites like allow people to get the best food and products to improve their lives. Longer life affords us more time with our companions, yet comes with additional health risks and concerns to provide quality within those extra years. Considerations to keep in mind include changes in your pet’s nutritional needs, lifestyle management, and management of chronic diseases. One disease that affects the hearts of adult dogs is dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

Dilated refers to enlargement in overall heart size. Depending on the initiating cause and the progression of disease, any or all 4 heart chambers can become dilated. Cardiomyopathy is a condition which alters the functioning of the heart muscle. Changes in heart structure originally occur to adapt to changing needs of the body. The dilation leads to heart muscle becoming thin with compromised ability to contract. DCM in its earliest stages is asymptomatic. As the condition progresses, a dog develop symptoms related to congestive heart failure (CHF).

DCM progresses to CHF when the heart can no longer meet the body’s demands. A veterinarian can stage the disease based on your pet’s symptoms and results from diagnostic tests. Stage does not indicate prognosis, as any dog with a heart condition can succumb suddenly and without warning; however, many dogs in the lower stages of heart disease have several good years before symptoms progress.

Symptoms of CHF:

  • cough
  • exercise intolerance or collapse
  • labored breathing
  • restlessness
  • decreased appetite or vomiting
  • distended abdomen

CHF due to DCM is routinely an adult onset disease, with the exception of congenital heart deformities. Common causes contributing to DCM in canines include genetics, heart arrhythmias, toxins, infectious disease, nutrition, or other co-occurring health conditions. Inherited (genetically-linked) DCM is most common in large and giant breed dogs . Nutritional DCM is often linked to diets deficient in certain nutrients due to homemade or raw diets. Infectious diseases linked to DCM can be minimized by utilizing proper vaccination and appropriate prevention measures.

A heart’s main function is as a muscular pump for the circulatory system – to pump blood to the body and to the lungs. The heart has its own internal electrical center which coordinates regular synchronous contractions of the heart to pump the blood. If any of the parts are not functioning as intended,the heart cannot match the needs of the body and cannot effectively pump blood. In DCM, the physical changes of heart structure impair normal heart function.


Early detection tests are recommended in at risk breeds to detect heart disease before symptoms of CHF are present. Once symptoms are present, additional tests can be utilized to verify CHF. Available tests include DNA testing, blood work and urinalysis, ultrasound of the heart (echocardiography), radiographs (x-rays), monitoring the heart’s electrical activity (electrocardiogram), and blood pressure monitoring. Some tests may be completed at your regular veterinarian, while others need to be performed using specialized equipment by veterinarians with training specific to heart health.


Other than the rare nutritional case of DCM (which can improve once the nutrient deficit is corrected) there is no cure for DCM; even with treatment the condition will progress to CHF. We can, however keep pets as comfortable as possible with the time they have. Treatment is aimed at palliative care and slowing disease progression. This is done with several types of mediations based the dog’s individual symptoms.Once on meds, they will be continued for your pet’s lifetime and sometimes additional drugs are added or dosages are changed. Routine follow-up care and diagnostics are necessary for best pet care.

Disease caught early has the best opportunity for slowing progression, but there is no concrete way to predict life expectancy after diagnosis. Some dogs with heart abnormalities can die very suddenly and each added day with a heart disease pet should be cherished.


Amanda Burow, D.V.M. (Dr. B), is a graduate of Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Burow’s patient list includes hunting dogs of all varieties, as well as several field trial dogs and full time sporting guide dogs. In addition to practicing general veterinary medicine, she has special interest in the areas of preventive care, emergency medicine, and dermatology. In her spare time, she enjoys being outdoors and on the lake, staying active, reading, and spending time with family and friends.

Mud River is proud to share these tips from Dr. B with our customers. Keep in mind it is best to work with your local veterinarian to determine the needs for your animals.