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.
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 the 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.
Diet-associated DCM in Dogs: Veterinarians Share Their Thoughts