Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs

What is Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs?

What is it?

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a severe heart disease that affects dogs caused by a weakened and enlarged left ventricle of the heart, which leads to an impaired ability to pump blood effectively. This can lead to significant changes in the dog’s health, quality of life and even death if left untreated. Therefore, while early detection and treatment are essential, prevention remains critical. 

How is it Treated?

Treatment for dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs can include medications, such as diuretics, to help reduce the amount of fluid in the lungs and improve heart function. Other drugs may lower or regulate blood pressure or control the heart rate. In addition, some dogs may require a pacemaker and surgery to repair any structural defects in their hearts. Your veterinarian may also recommend dietary changes and supplements to support your pet’s heart health.

Breed Predispositions

Doberman Pinscher, Great Dane, Boxer, Bull Mastiff, Newfoundland, Irish Wolfhound, Miniature Schnauzer, Yorkshire Terrier, Poodle, Maltese and Chihuahua.


For years, Jenna and her energetic Doberman, Rocky, had been inseparable, spending countless hours exploring the great outdoors together. Recently, however, Jenna noticed that Rocky was becoming increasingly lethargic and short of breath after even short walks. Concerned about her beloved companion’s well-being, Jenna took Rocky to the veterinarian for a comprehensive examination. The vet diagnosed Rocky with dilated cardiomyopathy, a serious heart condition that can affect dogs.

Enlarged heart chambers, decreased contractility, and thickened walls characterize dilated cardiomyopathy. As the heart becomes more prominent, it cannot pump efficiently. According to the Veterinary Medical Database (Sisson et al., 2000), from 1986 to 1991, 0.5% of the dogs evaluated at U.S. referral hospitals were diagnosed with DCM.

Dilated cardiomyopathy is relatively common in large-breed dogs. Up to 10% of Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are estimated to suffer from this condition. In dogs, DCM occurs most often between two and five years old. Unfortunately, there is no cure for DCM, but treatment may slow its progression.

What Causes Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs?

Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is an inherited disorder that affects the heart muscle. DCM causes the left ventricle (the heart’s main pumping chamber) to enlarge and weaken, leading to congestive heart failure (CHF).

There are several theories regarding the cause of dilated cardiomyopathy. One idea is that the condition results from a mutation in one of the genes involved in cardiac development. Another approach is that viral infection causes the disease.

While the exact cause of DCM is unknown, research suggests that genetics play a role. Several breeds are predisposed to developing dilated cardiomyopathy, including Boxers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherd Dogs, Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, Bull Terriers, and American Pitbulls. In addition, Doberman Pinschers have a reported incidence rate of 50% in males and 33% in females (Oyama, 2015), while Irish Wolfhounds have an overall breed incidence of 25%.

What Causes Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs

There are two types of DCM: primary and secondary.

  • Primary dilated cardiomyopathy is caused by genetic mutations that result in abnormal protein production. It is inherited in both purebreds and mixed breeds. Several genes are involved in causing the disorder, including TNNT2, MYH7, ACTC1, and DES, and some of these genes are dominant, while others are recessive.
  • Secondary dilated cardiomyopathies are usually associated with other conditions, such as endocrinological disorders, neoplasia, or infectious diseases. Secondary forms of dilated cardiomyopathic conditions are less common. These include congenital, nutritional, toxic, inflammatory, and idiopathic. Congenital cases are due to problems during fetal development, and healthy subjects are related to dietary deficiencies. Toxic cases are linked to environmental toxins. Inflammatory issues are due to autoimmune reactions. Idiopathic cases are unknown.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs May Cause Other Diseases?

Other diseases associated with dilated cardiomyopathy include arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD), hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), and restrictive cardiomyopathy (RCM). These conditions share similar characteristics with DCM.

  • Arrhythmic right ventricular dysplasias (ARVD) is a rare form of cardiomyopathy affecting the heart’s right side. Symptoms include cough, exercise intolerance, and sudden death. ARVD is diagnosed based on clinical signs, electrocardiography, echocardiography, histology, and genetic testing.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is another type of cardiomyopathy. Unlike DCM, HCM is characterized by the thickening of the left ventricle wall. Hypertrophy usually begins in adulthood and progresses over time.
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy is a form of cardiomyopathy that affects the left side of the heart. Restrictive cardiomyopathy causes the left ventricles to thicken and weaken.

Are There Any Other Types of Cardiomyopathy in Animals?

Yes! There are other types of cardiomyopathy in animals. For example, amyloid cardiomyopathy is caused by deposits of a protein called amyloid in the heart. The exact cause of amyloid cardiomyopathy is unknown. Amyloid cardiomyopathy typically develops in middle-aged cats and dogs. Cats tend to die suddenly, whereas dogs tend to experience progressive deterioration of their hearts.

Symptoms of Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs

Symptoms include:

  • coughing
  • exercise intolerance
  • weakness
  • poor quality of life
  • irregular heart rhythm
  • sudden death.

Diagnosis of DCM in Dogs

A European study showed that 1.1% of the dogs seen at veterinary hospitals were diagnosed with DCM (Fioretti and Delli, 1988). Therefore, the first step in diagnosing DCM is excluding secondary heart failure causes. This includes ruling out coronary artery disease, hypertension, valvular heart disease, pulmonary embolism, thyroid disorders, hyperthyroidism, pericarditis, and pheochromocytoma. If no secondary cause is identified, further testing is needed to determine whether DCM is present. 

Echocardiography is the primary diagnostic test used to detect DCM. Echocardiograms measure the size and shape of the heart chambers and assess their movement during contraction and relaxation. They provide valuable data regarding the overall health of the heart muscle. Other tests may be an electrocardiogram, exercise stress testing, and blood samples. Genetic testing is available for those with familial forms of DCM. 

Your vet should perform a thorough physical examination to determine whether your dog suffers from dilated cardiomyopathy. They will listen to your dog’s heartbeat during the exam and check its rhythm, and they will also measure the size of the chest cavity and abdomen.

They will also check the lungs for signs of pneumonia. In addition, they will examine the eyes and ears.

Depending on the severity of the disease, your vet may recommend genetic testing, echocardiography, electrocardiogram (ECG), or cardiac catheterization.

Genetic testing is used to detect specific mutations in genes associated with cardiomyopathy. These tests can reveal whether a conversion exists in your dog’s DNA.

An ECG records electrical activity in the heart, and an abnormal ECG pattern indicates that your dog has cardiomyopathy. However, an ECG cannot always distinguish between different forms of cardiomyopathy. For example, an arrhythmia such as atrial fibrillation can cause an abnormal ECG.

Using X-ray imaging, your vet can see the heart and other organs inside, allowing them to diagnose problems with the heart’s valves, arteries, veins, and other structures.

Treatment for Dogs with Dilated Cardiomyopathy

If your dog has dilated cardiomyopathy, he may need treatment. Treatment options include medications, dietary modifications, and surgery. Some dogs live longer than others with this condition, so keep an eye on him and contact your vet if his health declines.


The most common medications used to treat dilated cardiomyopathy are beta-blockers, such as Cordarone, Propanolol, and Acebutolol, as well as diuretics and ACE inhibitors.

Beta-blockers work by helping the heart muscle relax, improving blood flow, and allowing more oxygen to get to the heart. Diuretics help reduce fluid build-up in the lungs by promoting urination and reducing the amount of sodium and chloride in the bloodstream. ACE inhibitors reduce the number of stress hormones released into the bloodstream while raising nitric oxide levels, which helps relax constricted blood vessels.

Treatment for Dogs with Dilated Cardiomyopathy

In addition to these medications, several natural supplements are available as an alternative or adjunct therapy for dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs. Omega-3 fatty acids from a fish or krill oil-rich diet can help improve myocardial contractility and promote healthy circulation. Other herbs that may be beneficial include Hawthorn berry, CoQ10, Dandelion root, Crataegus oxyacantha extract, Curcumin extract, etc.

Dietary Modifications

Some diets are beneficial for treating DCM. For example, a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids may slow the progression of the disease. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish, amino, and flaxseed oils. In addition, flaxseed oil contains lignans, which may protect against cancer.

Surgical Procedures

Some dogs with DCM require surgical procedures to repair damaged heart tissue. Surgical procedures include:

  • Myectomy

Myectomy is the most widely used surgery for treating DCM and involves removing portions of the heart muscle affected by the condition. This helps to reduce strain on the heart and improve its efficiency. The procedure can also improve the chances of restoring more normal cardiac function.

  • Mitral valve replacement

Another surgical option is mitral valve replacement, which replaces a faulty mitral valve with a new prosthetic valve made from animal tissue or synthetic materials. This can help restore normal blood flow through the heart and improve symptoms.

  • Heart transplantation

This procedure replaces the diseased heart with a healthy donor heart. Some dogs may benefit from heart transplantation in advanced stages of DCM when other treatments have failed to provide relief.

How Do I Prevent Dilated Cardiomyopathy in My Dog?

Preventing dilated cardiomyopathy in your dog ensures they live a long and healthy life. The first step is understanding what can lead to the condition. Dilated cardiomyopathy can occur due to genetic issues, exposure to toxic substances, nutritional deficiencies, viral or bacterial infections, or certain medications.

To prevent dilated cardiomyopathy in your pup, ensure their diet contains an appropriate balance of proteins and other essential nutrients. Feed a balanced, nutrient-rich diet according to your vet’s recommendations and supplement with natural remedies such as garlic powder or seaweed. Also, watch for signs of infection that could put your pup at risk for dilated cardiomyopathy.

Be sure to monitor any medications (together with your veterinarian’s advice), as some may worsen the condition or even cause it in the first place. Finally, regularly schedule vet visits so you can keep up on preventative care and maintain a comprehensive understanding of your pet’s health – catching any issues before they become full-blown heart diseases!

Frequently Asked Questions

The average lifespan of a dog with DCM is approximately two years. However, some dogs may survive longer than others. In addition, older dogs generally tend to suffer from more severe cases of DCM. So, you should immediately consult your veterinarian if your dog shows any of these symptoms. Your vet will perform tests to determine if your dog has an enlarged heart, and they may recommend additional testing, such as echocardiography.

The final stage of congestive heart failure in dogs is when the heart cannot pump enough blood and oxygen to the body. Many underlying diseases can cause it, but it most commonly occurs in dogs when the heart structures weaken or are damaged due to age or other conditions. The warning signs of congestive heart failure in dogs are abnormal breathing patterns, lethargy, coughing, decreased appetite, and exercise intolerance.

In the end stage of congestive heart failure in dogs, progressive respiratory and circulatory insufficiencies will occur. Affected animals will have severe shortness of breath due to fluid build-up around the lungs, often accompanied by muffled sounds during respiration. As fluid accumulates around their abdomen and chest cavity, it may progress to a point where the normal motion becomes painful. There may also be weight loss and anorexia as specific organs succumb to a lack of circulation and oxygen depletion.

The animal’s ability for mobility will start to diminish with impaired function of their extremities leading to limb weakness or lameness. In addition, compensatory tachycardia (increased heartbeat) may occur due to ventricular inefficient pumping, leading to cardiac dysrhythmia, making death likely without intensive medical intervention.

According to a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, the average lifespan of dogs with congestive heart failure (CHF) on medication is ten years. In this study, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine examined data from 1,812 dogs diagnosed with CHF at one of three veterinary hospitals in the United States. They found that the median survival time was 9.5 years. However, they noted that some dogs lived longer than others, with a maximum life expectancy of 16 years.

Deciding to put your dog down with congestive heart failure can be difficult; however, specific criteria can help you decide when the time is right.

Essentially, when the quality of life for your dog no longer outweighs the pain or discomfort caused by their condition, it may be time to consider euthanasia. Signs such as difficulty breathing, rapid and shallow breathing, coughing, or exercise intolerance indicate severe discomfort, which could indicate this is a suitable option.

Other questions to ask yourself are whether your dog can eat and digest food comfortably and without too much effort, if they still exhibit signs of curiosity and joy, such as looking out windows or joining in family activities, if they still enjoy petting or playing with toys, and if they have enough energy left for everyday activities like going on walks. If any of these scenarios have become restricted due to the condition, the quality of life will likely be significantly compromised.

When you think about putting your beloved pet down, please the veterinarian, who will provide advice tailored to your situation. They may also be able to offer some additional treatments or medications which could alleviate symptoms and make them more comfortable so you can enjoy their company for longer. However, ultimately, the best decision will come from discussing the matter openly and honestly with those closest to you so that everyone involved can come to terms with the sad occasion.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is when the heart muscle enlarges and stiffens. As a result, the heart cannot pump blood effectively. As a result, it causes symptoms such as breathlessness, fatigue, chest pain, palpitations, dizziness, fainting, leg swelling, ankle swelling, nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, tiredness, weakness and general ill health.

Heart failure can progress quickly or gradually, depending on your pup’s health and condition. Canine heart disease typically involves a decrease in organ functioning and an accumulation of fluid build-up around the lungs and abdomen as the dog weakens.

If left untreated, symptoms such as fatigue, loss of appetite, and coughing may rapidly increase as heart function deteriorates. In addition, some signs, such as an irregular heartbeat, may appear much sooner than others, like rapid weight gain due to fluid build-up. Therefore, getting your pup checked out if you suspect any changes in behavior or health patterns that might indicate heart failure progression is essential.

A veterinarian may misdiagnose a dog’s congestive heart failure by looking at only their outward symptoms and missing some key aspects of the diagnosis. For example, chronic bronchitis, asthma, or pneumonia can have similar outward signs and therefore be mistaken for congestive heart failure when they should be treated differently. Other tell-tale signs of congestive heart failure, like irregularities in a pet’s heartbeat or an X-Ray screening showing fluid build-up, may also be overlooked during an initial assessment.

To lessen the risk of misdiagnosis, owners need to provide as much information about their pet’s medical history and day-to-day behavior as possible. These details help veterinarians determine whether further tests need to be conducted. For example, if congestive heart failure is suspected, additional assessments, such as listening to the heartbeat with a stethoscope or observing pulse oximetry readings, should always be performed before arriving at a final diagnosis.

Although misdiagnoses can happen in any medical situation regardless of species or age, being aware of both subtle and apparent signs can lead to earlier diagnosis of congestive heart failure in dogs and drastically improve treatment plans by veterinarians.

Firstly, maintain a consistent diet and exercise regime that reflects the needs of your pup. A sudden or dramatic change in diet or activity level could damage their health. A veterinarian should be consulted for the best dietary options for your pup’s condition.

Additionally, look for signs that may indicate the onset of cardiovascular episodes, such as coughing, wheezing, tiring quickly during activities, and restlessness due to difficulty breathing. Contact your vet immediately if these signs are seen, as treatment may be needed.

Creating an environment at home that encourages relaxation by minimizing noise levels and providing warm resting spots away from stairs or other areas that require energy expenditure may also help comfort a dog with Congestive Heart Failure.

Some common culprits that have been linked with dilated cardiomyopathy include meat-based proteins (e.g., chicken, beef), foods high in sulfur (e.g., garlic, onion), and food additives (such as monosodium glutamate). For example, suppose your canine companion appears to be experiencing fatigue or difficulty breathing symptoms. In that case, it may be wise to switch his diet and see if that helps improve his condition.

  1. Chest pain with breathlessness
  2. Fatigue or weakness despite an average resting heart rate
  3. Unexplained dizziness or lightheadedness
  4. Nausea and vomiting, especially during or shortly after eating

The early signs of congestive heart failure in dogs may include shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain, and decreased exercise tolerance.

Dogs specifically bred to be grain-free, such as German Shepherds, were found to be more predisposed to developing DCM from eating a grain-free diet. In addition, certain types of dog food, such as those made with chicken or beef, can aggravate conditions like DCM in some dogs. If you’re uncertain whether your dog is experiencing adverse effects from a grain-free diet, it’s best to consult a veterinarian.

DCM can develop suddenly in dogs; typical symptoms include breathing difficulties, panting, restlessness, weakness, and staggering. Although the cause of DCM is unknown, it may be related to several factors, including age, exercise, or disease status. If you notice any unusual changes in your dog’s behavior or health, it is essential to seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.

In dogs, dilated cardiomyopathy is not typically inherited, but some cases may be transmitted through genetics. If a dog inherits this condition from a parent, it is likely to have an increased chance of developing it.

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a potentially life-threatening condition in dogs. The prognosis depends on the severity of the disease, how well it’s treated, and other factors. Some dogs may recover fully; others may experience significant heart failure or die from complications related to their illness.

There is limited information on natural treatments for dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs. Some Options include:

  • Rest and Physical Therapy: Often, when cardiac muscles become weak or enlarged from heart disease, exercise can help improve function. Rest may also be essential for the heart muscle to recover sufficiently to pump more effectively. In addition, constant physical therapy may help strengthen weakened areas of the heart muscle and improve blood flow through the vessels.
  • Heart Support Medications: Various medications available can support Cardiovascular health by improving circulation, reducing inflammation, and constricting blood vessels, which improves oxygen delivery to cells essential for life (cardiac tissue).

Suppose your dog shows signs of dilated cardiomyopathy, such as difficulty breathing, coughing up blood, or being weak and lethargic. In that case, you should immediately take him to a veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this veterinary website is intended for general educational purposes only and should not be considered as a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult a licensed veterinarian for any concerns or questions regarding the health and well-being of your pet. This website does not claim to cover every possible situation or provide exhaustive knowledge on the subjects presented. The owners and contributors of this website are not responsible for any harm or loss that may result from the use or misuse of the information provided herein.

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