Talking To Your Vet About Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)
What Is DCM?
This is a disease that weakens the heart muscle resulting in poor pumping ability. What happens is the heart muscle becomes enlarged, which in turn may cause heart valves to leak. When the heart is not working properly, the entire body is affected, and the primary concern is developing congestive heart failure.
The cause of DCM is unclear, but it seems to affect certain dog breeds more than others. More large dogs get it than small dogs, but as far as smaller breeds are concerned, Cocker Spaniels have higher incidences. DCM is not the only disease that causes these symptoms; sometimes, secondary infections appear that mimic DCM because of toxins or infections.
Symptoms of DCM
Early on there may be no symptoms of DCM. In some cases the dog may present with low tolerance to exercise, a heart murmur, abnormal heart sounds, or an irregular rhythm. As the disease progresses, symptoms will become more apparent. Later on there may be more clear symptoms:
- High blood pressure
- Lung congestion
- Pleural effusion
- Acute weakness
- Sudden death
- Signs of Heart Failure
Left-sided congestive failure usually accompanies DCM. If your dog has entered this stage, you will likely see the following signs:
- Fatigue when exercising
- Increased breathing rate
- Excessive panting
- Coughing while active
- Abdominal enlargement
- Avoidance of lying down
Your veterinarian will give your dog a thorough exam if he suspects DCM. A full cardiac exam will detect any abnormal heart sounds. Chest X-rays and ECG can confirm the disease and determine how severe it is.
Asymptomatic dogs might be treated with an ACE inhibitor to slow down the disease. The therapy used depends solely on the individual and the stage of the disease.