What are the signs & symptoms that develop in affected dogs?
In the early stages of DCM, symptoms may not be noticed in affected dogs. DCM typically presents at the end stages of the disease, when the heart is failing and CHF develops. CHF may present with fluid in the abdomen or lungs, resulting in increased respiratory rate and effort, coughing, exercise intolerance, decreased appetite, fainting, and pale or blue gums. A murmur may be heard in some cases of DCM. Additionally, a veterinarian may observe an arrhythmia, which can increase the risk of sudden death.
When do signs and symptoms develop?
In general, DCM progresses through two distinct stages: an asymptomatic stage and an overt stage, in which clinical signs attributable to congestive heart failure (CHF) become apparent. Affected dogs are typically between one to five years of age at the time of diagnosis.
How do vets diagnose this condition?
A vet may use an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) or radiographs (x-rays) to observe progressive dilation and/or weakness of the left or both ventricles. CHF may be diagnosed by observing an increased opacity in the lungs or abdomen on radiographs due to the presence of fluid.
How is this condition treated?
Medical treatment is aimed at reducing the abnormal fluid accumulation, improving the function of the heart, and addressing arrhythmias, if present.
What actions should I take if my dog is affected?
- If you notice signs of CHF including weakness, cold toes and ears, pale or blue gums or tongue, or respiratory distress, seek veterinary care immediately.
- The earlier a diagnosis can be reached, the better the outcome. If you are concerned about your dog’s heart, discuss it with your veterinarian, who can perform testing.
- Regular echocardiograms by a board certified cardiologist and Holter monitoring are the best ways to diagnose DCM early.
- Treatment is dependent on how advanced the disease is at the time of diagnosis. It can range from monitoring the patient periodically to intensive hospitalization at specialty veterinary practices.