Thursday, July 26, 2018

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: What Would Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) Look Like in Your Dog?

Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) has made it on everyone's radar lately. The reason is the emerging pattern of increased incidence of the disease both in higher numbers than usually as well as in breeds where you wouldn't expect so many cases.

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: What Would Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) Look Like in Your Dog?

Moreover, the prime suspect at this time is diet. FDA is investigating whether that is the case and what exactly is the culprit.

Other than in rare cases, nutritional deficiencies were not seen as a factor of DCM in dogs, until now. The nutrient scientists are looking into now is taurine. Taurine is an essential nutrient for cats which means their bodies cannot make it. Dogs, however, are able to synthesize it from other nutrients. At least that's what has been believed.

How could nutrition be a problem then?


If a taurine deficiency was behind the recent increase in DCM in dogs, nutrition could affect it in a couple of ways. It could fail to provide the compounds needed to produce it. Or it could introduce something that interferes either with its production or function. Nobody knows what exactly is going on yet.

What would it look like if your dog were to get dilated cardiomyopathy?


Here is the thing. At early stages, it's not likely to look like anything. Your dog can go through a long pre-clinical stage when you won't see any signs or symptoms at all.

A thorough physical exam, however, can discover some of the subtle symptoms early. Another reason why regular wellness exams can be invaluable. Integrative veterinary medicine can be even more helpful because of the different approach to early diagnostics.

What is dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)?


Dilated cardiomyopathy is a degeneration of the heart muscle in which the muscle becomes thinner. This thinner muscle is not as strong and the pressure of the blood inside the heart makes the thin walls to stretch. The heart becomes larger but less efficient in pumping blood.

The symptoms, when they do become apparent, are a result of this dysfunction.


Signs that are related to the decreased delivery of oxygenated blood to the body include lethargy, weakness, anorexia, weight loss, fainting, and, in severe cases, collapse.

The most common signs are breathlessness and coughing. The latter is due to pulmonary edema – accumulation of fluid in the lungs due to back pressure from a failing heart. One of our neighbor's dogs died that way. He collapsed on the walk and later died at the emergency hospital.

When Jasmine continued to suffer from unexplained episodes of pacing, panting and general distress, heart problems with on the list of a differential diagnosis.

Signs related to congestion of blood in the lungs include coughing, panting, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and abdominal distention.

Because it can be so hard to see it coming


I take any persistent symptoms seriously, however subtle they may be. I am slow to dismiss any signs as a result of aging, weather, or other potentially benign causes. And I am a strong believer in regular wellness exams. Being diligent might help catch problems that could otherwise slip under the radar until they become severe.

Do you know what your dog is telling you about their health?


Learn how to detect and interpret the signs of a potential problem.


Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog now available in paperback and Kindle. Each chapter includes notes on when it is an emergency.

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog is an award-winning guide to help you better understand what your dog is telling you about their health and how to best advocate for them. 

Learn how to see and how to think about changes in your dog’s appearance, habits, and behavior. Some signs that might not trigger your concern can be important indicators that your dog needs to see a veterinarian right away. Other symptoms, while hard to miss, such as diarrhea, vomiting, or limping, are easy to spot but can have a laundry list of potential causes, some of them serious or even life-threatening. 

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog is a dog health advocacy guide 101. It covers a variety of common symptoms, including when each of them might be an emergency. 

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog has won the following awards:

31 comments

  1. This condition was rampant in the cat population at one time, and almost eradicated when the taurine deficiency in some cat foods was adjusted (Dr. Paul Pion I believe found that link). I'm surprised it's now on the rise in dogs and will be interested to see what, if any, nutritional link may be implicated. Thanks for posting the info!

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    1. It is believe [for now at least] that dogs can make their own taurine. If that is so, then the nutritional problem could be one of the things I mentioned.

      I could see how legumes could perhaps be the culprit.

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  2. Oh wow, this one scares the Heck out of me! I lost my cat to a heart problem we didn't realize was there so I worry about my dogs' heart health a lot. Thanks for sharing.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

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    1. So sorry about your kitty. It is not clear at this point that diet is really the cause. Coincidence doesn't mean consequence. But I would imagine having too much legumes in the diets could be at the root of the problem.

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  3. This is frightening and scary but I am so happy that you write about these issues as they are eye openers for me. I am taking Layla for her bi-annual check up next month as she is getting older and I am trying to keep her as healthy as possible.

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    1. I do bi-annual exams as well. It helps to keep on top of things and keep them from sneaking up.

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  4. I so agree with your approach, I wish more people felt the same. I never ignore a symptom, no matter how subtle it may be, and never assume anything is a natural part of aging. Red did have quite a few heart issues including a heart murmur. I don't think in her case it was diet related but who knows, the talk recently about grain free foods affecting the heart are concerning. My other dog Jack eats grain free because I found it helps with itching, but I wonder if it will cause issues. I think I'll chat to my vet about that.

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    1. I am almost entirely sure the lack of grains is not the issue here. Lack of grains with legumes as main ingredients, however, could be because each of them are nutritionally incomplete but balance each other well. On their own, neither would cut it.

      The problem, I believe, is not the lack of grains, or presence of legumes (though that could be if some compounds interfere with the biochemistry) but rather the lack of animal-source ingredients in those diets.

      I experimented with Sojos freeze-dried formulas. Too many carbs for my preference. The one that looked decent had chickpeas (quite a bit of them). When rehydrated, the chickpeas in the food looked like grit. Guess what they looked like in the poop? Identical grit. So those, clearly, were not getting digested at all.

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  5. Heart disease in our pets is a difficult thing, one of my dogs had an enlarged heart and he had to take medication the rest of his life. It is scary. Thanks for all the tips and information.

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    1. Any disease in dogs suck. Dogs should never get sick, period, IMO.

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  6. I watched a great video by Rodney Habib on this very topic, I like him because he gives a balanced view point to both sides of the story. It's on facebook and very interesting. Whilst the outcome and more research is done, Dr Karen Becker recommended adding sardines to your dogs food once a week. Which, strangely I do anyway! I hope they figure out what is causing this soon.

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    1. Yes, it was a good video. I think they are all being a bit too paranoid or playing it safe. I am not seeing how species-appropriate diets would cause this. My suspect, if diet is indeed to blame, would be the large amounts of legumes.

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  7. I always worry about heart disease, the breeds of cats I’m drawn to are prone to HCM. This food thing worries me, though cat food is supplemented at least.

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    1. Yes, cat foods seem to be taken care of in that regard. Btw, you know what would provide cats with plenty of taurine? Mice.

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  8. I hadn't heard of this before, and I'm glad to know that if properly diagnosed early on there are treatments for it.

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    1. Any problem is easier to address when caught early.

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  9. Your last paragraph really hits home. Keeping a weather eye on your pet is important, especially as they get older. All of our seniors go for a six monthly wellness exam and more often if I worry about anything!!

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    1. Yes, we do wellness exams twice a year as well. Always better to be safe than sorry.

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  10. This is very scary. I feel bad for pet parents who don't know as much as others who do research. When my cats aren't acting "normally", I don't take it lightly and always get it checked out. It's usually nothing, but I'd rather be safe than sorry.

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    1. We've all been there. It's usually when something goes wrong what makes people to get their learn on.

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  11. I had no idea about dilated cardiomyopathy. I've heard of heart murmurs as my first cat had a murmur and later died with complications (we think) due to it. It was quite sudden. It's scary to hear about dilated cardiomyopathy in pets too. It's 2018 yet I feel like our pets have so many more ailments to deal with and much is linked in part to lack of or missing factors in nutrition. Food really is our medicine so we as humans and pet owners need to do our best to be informed and make the best choices to keep us healthy and strong.

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    1. While there is the question whether they get more illnesses or just get diagnosed more, I do seem to remember dogs living longer and appearing to be healthier than nowadays.

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  12. Like Amy said earlier, this used to be a disease very prevalent in certain breeds of cats. I’m thankful they’ve adjusted the cat food to help with this. I hope they can find a way to help dogs with this disease.

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    1. Yes, it's good they figured it out in cats. I am not fully sold on the diet being the culprit but if it is, legumes would be my suspect.

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  13. Wellness exams are important! Mr. N gets regular checkups and of course I'm always monitoring him for anything different.

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    1. Yes. Wellness exams can discover things eyes cannot.

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  14. This is scary! Especially as it may not show up until much later! Thankfully, having three dogs, we make visits to the vet twice a year. He's fabulous and looks them all over and asks questions about each of them during our visits. I'm so sorry to hear about your neighbour's dog.

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    1. There are many diseases that have a relatively long sub-clinical stage. Often, by the time you see the signs, the illness is quite progressed.

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  15. We just found out our wee one may have MMVD ... ugh. Hadn't heard of ANY of these heart issues until now. It's terrifying as a pet owner.

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    1. Sorry about your baby. "May have" perhaps doesn't. Fingers crossed.

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  16. Such a scary disease. Just another reason why regular vet care is so important. Thanks for sharing

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