Dilated Cardiomyopathy, DCM


Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is reportedly the most common myocardial disease affecting dogs. The heart has two heavily muscled ventricles that pump blood. DCM causes progressive weakening of the ventricles by reducing the muscle mass, which causes the ventricles to dilate. Dilated ventricles do not contract and circulate oxygenated blood well, which eventually leads to heart failure.

  • Signs and symptoms

    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.

    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.

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  • Diagnosis

    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.

  • Treatment

    Medical treatment is aimed at reducing the abnormal fluid accumulation, improving the function of the heart, and addressing arrhythmias, if present.

  • What to do if your dog is at risk


    • 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.

  • Genetic Information

    Keep in mind that DCM can occur due to other causes. Please consult with your veterinarian if you have any concerns, even if your dog tested clear for this variant.

    This form of Dilated Cardiomyopathy is recessive, that is, a dog requires two copies of the variant to show signs of the disease from the variant. This early-onset form of DCM has been identified in Standard Schnauzers and Giant Schnauzers.

    Gene names:

    RBM20 ‐ chr

    Inheritance type:


  • Breeds affected

    This health condition affects the following breeds

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