Dilatative cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a disease of the heart muscle.  Normally, the heart muscle (myocardium) functions as a pump, first stretching to store blood then contracting to eject blood.  DCM significantly reduces the heart’s ability to contract or eject the blood.  In most cases, the cause of this is unknown.  In some breeds, certain deficiencies have been found.  When these deficiencies are supplemented, the disease can be reversed and sometimes cured.  However, in most cases, there is no cure.  We use medications to control the symptoms associated with the disease.  Our goal is to prolong life only if it is good quality life.

In patients with DCM, more blood remains in the heart each cycle and the heart stretches out or becomes enlarged.  If the blood volume remaining in the heart increases too much, fluid begins to leak from the veins in the chest or the abdomen resulting in edema or fluid production.  Edema or fluid accumulations are known as congestive heart failure.  If the edema occurs in the lungs, it becomes difficult for the animal to breath.  Panting, coughing, or inability to lay down and rest are signs that can suggest edema is present.  Auscultation of the chest (with a stethescope) or chest radiographs are used to confirm this.  Prompt treatment is needed to prevent death.  Fluid accumulation in the abdomen is seen as swelling of the abdomen.  While this type of fluid is less of an emergency, it does signal inadequate control of the heart disease and drug therapy modification or drainage may be required.

On the other side of the coin, since the heart fails to eject blood properly, your pet may feel weak or be unable to exercise.  The kidneys, brain and liver may suffer from decreased blood supply.  Fainting, lack of appetite, depression or increased water consumption may suggest problems that need to be addressed.

A third area of concern is the development of arrhythmias or irregular heartbeats.  These can occur intermittently or can develop as the disease progresses.  Arrhythmias can result in fainting, pulmonary edema (lung edema), weakness or sudden death.  If the arrhythmia is present when your pet is examined, and electrocardiogram (ECG) can be done to determine the severity.  If symptoms suggest an arrhythmia may be occurring but is not present when the patient is examined, a 24 hour (HOLTER) ECG can be done.  Once the nature of the arrhythmia is ascertained, proper medication can be instituted