What is the life expectancy of a dog with dilated cardiomyopathy?
While the overall prognosis of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), also known as an enlarged heart, isn’t good, a dog’s ultimate lifespan will depend on how advanced the disease is, how early it was caught, and having a good treatment plan.
If your dog was recently diagnosed with DCM, keep reading to find out which medications work best to strengthen the heart and what you can do at home to monitor your dog’s health.
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The Anatomy of Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs
There are at least 5 distinct symptoms of the condition (more on this below), but – unfortunately – the symptoms don’t typically present themselves until the disease has progressed.
It’s for this reason that the life expectancy of a dog with dilated cardiomyopathy is relatively poor. Dilated Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle.
It causes the heart’s chambers to dilate (widen) which leads to poor function. Typically, both sides of the heart are affected, but some dog breeds have experienced the disease in one side or the other.
The heart weakens over time because there’s simply not enough pressure to pump blood through the vascular system.
When the heart isn’t working efficiently, blood pools in the veins. At this point, a few things can happen:
#1 The Left Side of the Heart Fails
When the left side of the heart fails, fluid backs up and collects in the lungs. This is what causes the symptom of coughing and difficulty breathing in dogs.
#2. The Right Side of the Heart Fails
When the right side of the heart fails, fluid builds up in the chest or abdomen. This leads to a bloated or distended abdomen. Fluid may seep in to the spaces around the lungs as well.
Veterinarians Report an Alarming Increase in Dilated Cardiomyopathy Diagnosis
Veterinarians recently began to see an increase in diagnosis which they found alarming. The disease itself is common; however veterinarians were seeing it in dogs not typically associated with the disease.
The Sad Reality of Life Expectancy for a Dog with Dilated Cardiomyopathy
By the time the signs and symptoms have become noticeable, the disease has usually progressed and the dog has moved into congestive heart failure. There’s no cure for dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs, but there are some medications available to help the heart muscles contract more effectively.
Research suggests that a dog with advanced heart disease may leave up to 6 months with treatment and care. However, there are always exceptions and dogs have been known to live beyond that timeline.
Dogs are usually between 4 and 10 years of age when diagnosed with the disease.
Drugs Used to Treat a Dog with Dilated Cardiomyopathy
As mentioned above, there are some treatment options that help your dog feel better, a little more energetic, and may slow the progression of the disease.
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Pimobendan (Trade Names Vetmedin/Arcardi)
Pimobendan is often used in combination with other cardiac drugs.
It has a positive inotropic (modifies the force or speed of contraction of the heart muscles) and vasodilator (helps dilate blood vessels) effects in dogs.
Furosemide is a diuretic used to treat fluid retention in dogs with congestive heart failure. It can also be used to treat high blood pressure.
Enalapril is an ACE inhibitor that works in conjunction with other medications to treat heart failure in dogs.
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Signs & Symptoms of Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs
In some cases, early symptoms may be subtle but not so easy to detect. The general rule of thumb with pets is to bring them in to the veterinarian is you suspect something isn’t quite right.
Keep in mind that the symptoms listed below do not necessarily point to heart disease in dogs. However, these should never be ignored. The life expectancy of a dog with dilated cardiomyopathy depends on how advanced the disease is when diagnosed.
Signs & Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore
- Fainting Spells
- Severe Exercise Intolerance
- Heavy breathing (labored)
- High breathing rate
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Which Breeds are More Likely to Develop DCM?
The following breeds are more genetically predisposed to DCM:
- Afghan Hound
- American cocker spaniel
- Great Dane
- Doberman Pinscher
How You Can Help a Dog with Dilated Cardiomyopathy at Home
Once you’ve been given the diagnosis, you will likely be on high alert, watching your dog for any signs of illness.
It’s important to keep your home as stress-free as possible and to follow any at-home instructions given to you by the veterinarian.
It’s very important to give your dog the prescribed medications exactly as indicated by the veterinarian. He/she may set exercise restrictions on your dog and possibly even suggest a prescription diet for your dog to follow.
Palliative Care for Dogs with Dilated Cardiomyopathy
The veterinarian is the best person to ask about the life expectancy of a dog with dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM. Research shows that the average lifespan after diagnosis is approximately 6 months. However, that can vary depending on other factors.
Sadly, there is no cure. You will want to get the best quality time you can with your beloved dog.
Keep him/her comfortable and calm, and spend time doing things that help ease anxiety.
Examples of Gentle, Anxiety Relieving Activities:
- Gentle brushing
- Light massage
- Playing music
- Giving your dog a soft, favorite toy to chew on
- Give him/her a comfortable bed to sleep in
- Easy playtime with a snuffle mat (see below)
Side-Effects of Medications
Ask your veterinarian what side-effects to expect from the medications prescribed and remember, they might not be the same medications that are listed here.
Medications sometimes need to be taken with food, plenty of water, or on an empty stomach.
Ask if there are certain foods to avoid altogether and ask for suggestions on good quality treats for your dog.
Life Expectancy Reality for Dogs with Dilated Cardiomyopathy
At the end of the day, DCM is a difficult to diagnosis to hear. There’s no cure, but there are medications and treatments that can help your dog to extend his/her life expectancy beyond what you thought was possible.
The most important thing will be to follow the veterinarian’s instructions carefully, ask questions, and monitor your dog at home for signs that the medication may not be working.
With proper treatment, you should see your dog pick up a little bit of energy and, for a while, might be his/her old self again.
Sadly, dogs with DCM will eventually succumb to heart failure.
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Understanding Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy – PennVet Ryan Hospital