The Dog Heart Disease Called Cardiomyopathy

Dog heart disease, DCM, or dilated cardiomyopathy, is a swift, silent killer! While there are three types of canine cardiomyopathy, Dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM, is most common in Great Danes and also most deadly.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy Dog Heart Disease

Sadly and tragically, dog heart disease can take our beloved Great Danes from us way too soon! The disease is real and runs rampant in our breed. I've lived through the loss dilated cardiomyopathy has caused first hand when Bruiser, the Dane that inspired this website, succumbed to this illness before the age of six. While our website moves forward and we are now blessed with new Danes, the memory of Bruiser and all he inspired lives on. Dog heart disease is real folks, many of you can vouch for this as well.

What exactly is DCM and why my dog?

In layman's terms DCM is basically a "sick heart" in which the chambers, typically the left ventricle, become enlarged. The thin wall of the affected chamber stretches, hampering the hearts ability to properly pump blood. The poorly functioning heart works "overtime" in an attempt to keep up with required blood flow, fluid may also build in the lungs and other areas of the dogs abdomen.

If cardiomyopathy is suspected, your Veterinarian may refer you to a canine cardiologist for diagnostic tests such as an electrocardiogram, and/or an echocardiogram. An X-ray of your dogs chest is usually performed as well to evaluate the size of the heart and look for fluid intrusion of the lungs and pulmonary vessels.

Sadly, expected lifespan of a dog is just six to twenty four months from being diagnosed.

There are drugs such as Lanoxin (Digoxin, Digitalis) that can help strengthen heart contractions as well as slow the heart's pace. Other diuretic medications like Lasix®, or the generic brand Furosemide®, are used to reduce fluid in the lungs, (pulmonary edema). However, these medications only increase the quality of life for the affected dog over its final days.

Many write that the "buckets of pills" required to treat their Danes have a "wasting away" effect. Sadly, a dog with this disease may die within weeks to months from heart failure.

My choice with Bruiser was to forego all the pills and simply spend a few quality days with him prior to putting him down. For others, the decision to prolong their dog's life makes more sense. There is no right or wrong decision, it's about quality of life as you expect it should be for your dog and, you will know when it's time to say goodbye.

Some owners of DCM dogs recall initial signs of dog heart disease as an unexpected cough, like the dog is trying to clear its throat. Sadly, once we notice symptoms, the dog heart disease in most cases has passed its initial phases and fully manifested. Additional warning signs can include sudden loss of coordination, or lameness during exercise, unexplained labored breathing, lethargy, and change in appetite.

Dog heart disease such as cardiomyopathy can strike even the healthiest Great Dane show dogs, a very scary thought. Guess that's why Danes are often referred to as the "heartbreak breed".

So why did my dog get this disease?

First of all, it's nothing that you did wrong. This disease is very common in many large breeds with Doberman Pinschers the most heavily afflicted. Breed of dog plays a major factor here so when selecting a breed in the "high risk group", the only way to increase your odds of a healthy dog is to choose a pup from a breeder that screens there stock and has made efforts to try and rid this hereditary disease from their lines. Certain infectious diseases also are thought to contribute to Dilated Cardiomyapothy such as, trypanosomiasis, lyme disease and bartonellosis, but this is far less common. I repeat, the best way not to lose a Great Dane to DCM is to be pro active and seek a puppy with less hereditary predisposition to the illness. And again, you do this by choosing a breeder that health screens their stock for the disease!

I've included four tearful stories of Great Danes with dog heart disease from Ginnie Saunder's site, beginning with "Gone in a Phlash". You'll receive thought provoking realization of how swiftly and tragically our healthy, strong, loving companions can be taken from us. Please allow pop-ups as the links are set to open in a new browser window.

In a perfect world this disease would be stricken from all dogs, yet we know that's never going to happen. Reality is that with Great Danes and many other breeds, this disease is always a possibility. We can only lessen the risk in our dogs through education, pro active breeding and careful puppy selection.