Dilated Cardiomyopathy Screening

shutterstock_350717534Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a disease of the heart most commonly seen in larger breed dogs but especially breeds such as the Dobermann, Boxer, Cocker and Springer Spaniel, German Shepard Dog, Great Dane, Irish Wolfhound and Irish Setter but any giant or large breed dog can be at risk.

The disease causes stretching and weakening of the heart muscle. The heart becomes dilated and unable pump blood efficiently resulting in poor circulation and eventually heart failure.

DCM is made up of two phases:

  • Preclinical phase – the long and silent phase. Changes to the heart have started but the heart is able to compensate and function adequately so your dog appears perfectly healthy.
  • Clinical phase – short, heart failure phase. The disease has progressed and the heart can no longer cope and signs of heart failure are apparent. Once in the clinical phase the disease tends to progress quite quickly. In this stage your dog may show symptoms such as:
    • lack of energy
    • laboured breathing
    • coughing
    • weight loss
    • poor appetite
    • swollen abdomen
    • fainting
    • sudden death can occur

Until recently, treatment was only indicated once your dog had reached the clinical phase but a recent study called the PROTECT study demonstrated that in Dobermanns, starting medication in the preclinical phase can significantly improve their life expectancy by delaying the onset of heart failure.

Although the study only looked at Dobermanns, its is thought that the results would be the same for all breeds suffering with DCM.

Watch this short video by Veterinary Cardiologist Mark Patteson MA VetMB PhD DVC Cert VR MRCVS explaining more about Dilated Cardiomyopathy.



DCM Screening

Screening aims to identify dogs with DCM whilst in the preclinical phase, allowing us to initiate early treatment and improve life expectancy.

We recommend DCM screening for dogs in one of the at risk breeds as listed above, or any giant or large breed dog over 3 years old.echo-6

Step 1Consultation with a vet. This will include a full examination to assess your dogs general health and to listen to the heart, checking for any abnormal heart or lung sounds and changes to heart rate or rhythm.

Step 2Pro-BNP blood test. Any dog considered at risk can have a blood test taken at the time of consultation which gives an indication of heart damage.

Step 3Any dog with a high pro-BNP result will be recommended to have further diagnostic tests performed. This may involve any of the following:

  • Echocardiography – an ultrasound scan of the heart provides an image of the heart to look for dilated heart chambers and reduced muscle function. It’s not painful and just requires the patient to lie still on our special padded table. The majority of dogs will allow us to perform echocardiography conscious. echo-2

Echocardiography may be sufficient on its own to make a diagnosis but in some cases we may recommend further diagnostics which may include:

  • ECG
  • X-ray
  • Additional blood tests to check general health status

If preclinical DCM is diagnosed then treatment can be initiated. This will be tailored to your dog and will be discussed with you by your vet.

To get your dog screened for DCM or to discuss further please phone us on 01543 262464 

Pool House Vets