Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy - Symptoms and Treatment

Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy - Symptoms and Treatment

Canine dilated cardiomyopathy is a fatal disease in which the muscle fibers contract weakly. Then, the muscles of the heart's walls become thinner and the chambers, that is, the ventricles and atria, get bigger. As a result of this disease, the heart gets bigger and loses its original shape, since its muscles aren't strong enough.

The hearts of ill dogs cannot adequately pump blood, affecting the oxygenation of all the body's tissues and organs, with the lungs and kidneys being the most vulnerable. Moreover, as there is a greater volume of blood within the heart, it causes congestive heart failure.

In this AnimalWised article we will help you get to know the symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment of this canine disease, and how you can prevent it.

Symptoms of canine dilated cardiomyopathy

The symptoms of this heart disease do not become evident until the disease reaches an advanced stage. In many cases, the condition is only detected during the autopsy after the dog has died. The most common way the disease is found, however, is when it's detected during clinical exams for other problems.

The symptoms are similar to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. However, in dilated cardiomyopathy the heart chambers get bigger while in the hypertrophic form the muscles of the heart's walls get thicker - that is, the other way around.

The symptoms of cardiomyopathy in dogs are the following:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Excessive agitation
  • Arrhythmia: Abnormal heartbeat
  • Heart murmurs
  • Pulmonary edema: Blue tongue, expression of anxiety, rapid and difficult breathing
  • Coughing
  • Abdominal fluid accumulation
  • Congestive hepatopathy or spleen congestion
  • Exercise intolerance, rapid fatigue and refusal to play
  • Low temperature in the legs, tail and ears
  • Fainting
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of appetite, weakness and lethargy
  • Sudden death

Causes and risk factors for dilated cardiomyopathy

The causes of this disease are unknown, and it is therefore known technically as idiopathic cardiomyopathy. "Idiopathic" simply means that the causes are unknown.

However, several possible causes have been suggested, including:

  • Poor nutrition, especially relating to the amino acids of taurine and carnitine
  • Viral infections
  • Protozoal infections
  • Exposure to toxic substances
  • Immunological problems
  • Genetic causes

Those dogs most likely to suffer this disease are large and giant breeds, although some medium-sized breeds are also very prone to suffering from cardiomyopathy. The breeds at highest risk include:

  • Old English Sheepdogs
  • Boxers
  • American and English Cocker Spaniels
  • Dalmatians
  • Dobermans
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Great Danes
  • Afghan Hounds
  • Scottish Deerhounds
  • Irish Wolfhounds
  • Portuguese Water Dogs
  • St. Bernards
  • Schnauzers
  • Springer Spaniels
  • Newfoundlands

How is dilated cardiomyopathy diagnosed?

The diagnosis is often made accidentally when investigating another health problem, since the actual symptoms only arise when the disease is at an advanced stage.

An auscultation and a physical examination give the early indications that the dog might have dilated cardiomyopathy. After these preliminary examinations X-rays, electrocardiograms and echocardiograms are used to detect the heart deficiency.

  • An X-ray scan of the thorax can help to see the enlarged heart or the presence of fluid around the heart and lungs. In some cases, however, these problems might not show up on X-rays even when they exist.
  • An electrocardiogram gives an indication of the electrical activity of the cardiac muscle and allows for the detection of abnormalities in the heart that may be caused by a cardiomyopathy.
  • An echocardiogram is the best test for diagnosing different types of cardiomyopathies, but it is unfortunately not available in most veterinary centers. It essentially consists of performing an ultrasound or sonogram of the heart.

Treatment of dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs

Treatment is based on the administration of diuretics to help eliminate the retained fluids, that is, pulmonary edema and ascites; vasodilators to facilitate blood circulation; and various medications to regulate and stabilize the contraction of the heart so that it works properly.

Dogs affected by canine dilated cardiomyopathy shouldn't be forced to exercise; they should decide the amount of physical activity they do by themselves. The vet will also probably prescribe a low-sodium diet.

Unfortunately, the treatment only serves to improve the dog's quality of life, but there is no cure for this cardiac disease. Most dogs who suffer from it live for two more years after first diagnosis.

Can canine dilated cardiomyopathy be prevented?

Since the causes of canine dilated cardiomyopathy are unknown, it is not possible to prevent it. Some breeders suggest preventing sick dogs from reproducing, assuming that cardiomyopathy could be hereditary.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy - Symptoms and Treatment, we recommend you visit our Cardiovascular diseases category.