Heart Disease in Dogs (cont.)

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease in which the heart chambers enlarge and the walls of the ventricles become thin. The heart muscle weakens and begins to fail.

Dilated cardiomyopathy is the most common cause of congestive heart failure in large and giant breed dogs.It is rare in toy breeds and small dogs. A high incidence is found in Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, Springer Spaniels, and American and English Cocker Spaniels. Other breeds affected include German Shepherd Dogs, Great Danes, Old English Sheepdogs, St. Bernards, and Schnauzers. Most dogs are 2 to 5 years of age at the onset of symptoms. The majority are males.

In most cases the cause of dilated cardiomyopathy is unknown. Myocarditis,an inflammation of the heart muscle, may precede dilated cardiomyopathy in some dogs. Hypothyroidismhas been associated with dilated cardiomyopathy. A genetic or familial basis has been proposed for giant and large breed dogs. Cardiomyopathy related to taurine and/or carnitine deficiency is seen in American Cocker Spaniels, Boxers, and possibly Golden Retrievers, Newfoundlands, and other breeds.

The signs of dilated cardiomyopathy are the same as those of congestive heart failure and cardiac arrhythmias. Weight loss can occur in a matter of weeks. Affected dogs are lethargic, tire easily, breathe rapidly, and cough frequently, sometimes bringing up bloody sputum. Coughing is especially common at night. A swollen abdomen (called ascites)may be noted. Cardiac arrhythmias can cause weakness and collapse.

The diagnosis of dilated cardiomyopathy is based on ECG changes showing cardiac arrhythmias, a chest X-ray showing enlarged heart chambers, and an echocardiogram showing the characteristic pattern of a failing heart muscle.

Treatment: Treatment is directed at improving the force of the heart muscle, controlling arrhythmias, and preventing the buildup of fluid in the lungs and abdomen (see Congestive Heart Failure). Many dogs benefit from the addition of taurine and/or carnitine to their diet. The prognosis for long-term survival is guarded. With excellent medical control, some dogs may live for a year or more. Death usually occurs as the result of a sudden cardiac arrhythmia. Some dogs will drop dead without any noticeable signs beforehand.

This article is excerpted from “Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.