DCM in Dogs: What Is Dilated Cardiomyopathy?

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs has been making headlines lately. To help loving pet parents such as yourself, we put together a primer on the disease.

We hope it helps answer your questions and quell any concerns you may have.

Dog lying on the floor

What Is Dilated Cardiomyopathy?

DCM disease affects the heart muscle. In dogs with DCM, dilation of the ventricles, or large chambers of the heart, reduces the heart’s ability to effectively pump blood through the body.

As the disease progresses, the heart becomes enlarged. If severe enough, signs of congestive heart failure develop.

Signs and Symptoms of DCM in Dogs

DCM affects adult dogs, typically between the ages of 5–10 years. In the early stages, there are no clinical signs of the disease. But as the condition advances, signs may include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Reluctance to exercise
  • Loss of appetite

However, such symptoms aren’t exclusive to DCM. So if you’re concerned, we recommend consulting your veterinarian or testing for genetic health disorders to determine if your dog carries the disease mutation for DCM.

Great Dane looking regal

Causes of DCM in Dogs

Though recent news coverage has focused on a possible connection between a dog’s diet and DCM, nutrition is only one potential cause of the disease. Genetics is another.

Let’s look at both.

Genetic Causes of Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Some dog breeds appear to be predisposed to DCM. These include:

Variations in the DNA of two breeds in particular—the Doberman and Schnauzer—have been linked to an increased risk of DCM.

Carrying the gene mutation for DCM, however, does not mean that a dog will automatically develop the disease.

For example, Wisdom Health can test for two DCM mutations—one found originally in Schnauzers and one in Dobermans. But our research revealed that the mutation found in Dobermans does not appear to be associated with clinical heart disease in breeds beyond the Doberman.

So, while some dogs may test positive for the mutation, the result doesn’t necessarily mean the dog will develop DCM.

For this reason, we removed the Doberman DCM test from our WISDOM PANEL™ Health kit to avoid causing unnecessary concern for dog owners. But we do include the test in our OPTIMAL SELECTION™ Canine Genetic Breeding Analysis test specifically for Doberman breeders.

Dog eating food

Food and DCM in Dogs

The FDA is currently investigating a link between DCM and certain diets, most of which are considered “grain-free.” In particular, the FDA is looking at dog foods that feature peas, lentils and potatoes (including sweet potatoes) as primary ingredients.

Recent reports of DCM in dogs that are not considered prone to the disease—but that follow grain-free diets—spurred the investigation. While it’s ongoing, there is not yet proof that grain-free foods cause DCM.

Experts found that Taurine deficiencies can also cause DCM in dogs. Taurine is one of 20 amino acids in the body. Unlike cats, dogs are able to synthesize taurine in their bodies. So, taurine is not typically added to dog food.

However, some dog breeds—such as Cocker Spaniels and giant breeds like Newfoundlands—do appear to be predisposed to taurine deficiency because of an inherited condition called cystinuria.

The WISDOM PANEL Health test screens for two types of cystinuria and may provide valuable information for your veterinarian.

Veterinarian holding puppy

Treatments for DCM in Dogs

DCM is a complex disease with complicated causes. But genetic testing and proactive veterinary care can help.

We recommend discussing all aspects of your dog’s lifelong healthcare—including subjects like nutrition and grain-free diets—with your veterinarian. And when selecting a dog food brand, consider choosing a company that consults board-certified veterinary nutritionists when developing its formulas.

Test Your Dog for 150+ Genetic Disorders

Genetic screenings also provide additional insights into your dog’s overall health and can help you proactively plan for your dog’s healthcare. In addition to the DCM and cystinuria diseases mentioned above, the WISDOM PANEL Health test screens for over 150 health conditions.

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The mission of WISDOM HEALTH™ veterinary science and research is to facilitate responsible pet care by enhancing the well-being and relationship between pets, pet owners, breeders, shelters and veterinarians through valuable insights into pets as individuals. Through the genetic testing of dogs and cats we aim to make advances in science towards a better world for all pets so their owners can love them longer.

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