Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a disease that affects the heart muscle. DCM most commonly affects medium to large breed dogs, such as Dobermans, Boxers, Irish Setters, German Shepherds, Great Danes, St Bernards and Irish Wolfhounds. How is DCM diagnosed by my vet?
DCM is characterised by two phases, a long and ‘silent’ preclinical phase where the dog will appear normal and healthy and then a shorter clinical phase, i.e. heart failure, when the dog appears ill or might suddenly die. The preclinical phase is important because, although your pet may look healthy, the changes of heart disease have already begun and this is the time to start treatment.
In DCM, the heart muscle gradually becomes weakened and floppy. The heart enlarges and stretches, and becomes very inefficient at pumping blood around the body. Because the heart’s ability to pump is impaired, circulation is also impaired. A dog with DCM can often live with the problem for a period of time as the body naturally makes adjustments to cope with the changes. However, at some point, the disease exceeds the body’s ability to cope, and the dog will become unwell and shows signs of heart failure.
Yearly screening is usually recommended for dogs at risk. Depending on the results of the tests, your vet may suggest a treatment regimen or test again as needed.
When your vet checks over your dog, they may find signs relating to heart disease and/ or congestive heart failure. Listening to your dog’s heart with a stethoscope will allow a vet to pick up a murmur if it is present. The heart rate and rhythm can also be assessed using a stethoscope. Your vet may also detect harsh sounds when listening to the lungs. The vet may also pick up other signs that your dog’s heart is not working well, such as fluid in the abdomen and poor pulses. Regular veterinary visits are very important for early detection of heart disease or to monitor the treatment of a dog with heart disease. Your vet may recommend further tests to help determine the cause of these abnormalities.