In last month’s issue, we discussed the effects of what grain-free diets can do to your dog and cat. We mentioned that one of the recently researched conditions that may have a link with grain-free pets is Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). As promised, we will discuss what this disease is, in detail, in this month, to better inform our readers what signs to look for! DCM is a common heart muscle disease found in dogs. This disease causes weakness in the heart’s muscles making them contract and also contributes towards poor pumping function. Congestive heart failure is often a condition seen with DCM, since the heart chambers potentially begin to enlarge, which allows valves to leak.

As mentioned, one recently discovered cause of DCM could be grain-free diets being given to your pet. However, there are other causes as well. DCM can be an inherited predisposition in certain dog breeds, such as: American and English Cocker Spaniels, Afghan Hounds, Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, English Bulldogs, Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, Newfoundlands, Saint Bernards and Scottish Deerhounds. DCM can also occur as a consequence, due to a primary infection or toxin found in your pet. A common cause of DCM can be the lack of ‘Taurine’ in the diet. Taurine is a nutrient that aids in providing healthy heart function, reproductive health, retinal function and it also is a component of bile acids. Deficiency in such case can lead to Dilated Cardiomyopathy.

In any such cases, initially DCM does not typically present with any clinical signs. Your dog may show some reduction in wishing to move around or exercise, to which veterinarians refer as ‘exercise intolerance’. Some dogs may also show a small heart murmur upon presentation or abnormal/ irregular heart sounds. A persistent cough can also be seen, along with difficulty in breathing, anorexia (chronically losing weight due to loss of appetite) and even episodes of collapse. If you are at all in any doubt of if your dog may have such signs, then it is highly recommended for you to have your pet examined by a professional. If DCM is not dealt with at the right time, it can potentially lead towards heart failure and other complications. Signs of progressed heart failure would include labored breathing, cough, exercise intolerance, collapse, not wishing to lie down, not feeling at ease and being restless or loss of appetite.

When you bring your dog to your local veterinarian, he or she will first conduct a proper physical examination. A cardiac examination will also be performed, in which your vet can determine if there are any abnormalities in your dog’s heart sounds or rhythms. Typically, chest radiographs, electrocardiogram or even an echocardiogram can be done to detect a further diagnosis. These tests allow for your vet to detect the level of severity of his patient at hand. When it comes to treatment, each case is dealt with individually. However, generally dogs showing no particular signs will be treated with drugs like Enalapril or others in its category that allow signs of heart failure to regress.

Treatment options will always be subjective to each individual patient and the level of severity of their condition. However, it is important to keep in mind that since DCM is not reversible, the amount of treatment will most likely increase over time as the condition progresses at its rate.

Dr. Sifti Bhullar (DVM)

Dr. Hakam Bhullar