What Is Dilated Cardiomyopathy In Dogs And Cats?

Apr 28, 2020 | Pet Health, Pets

Dilated cardiomyopathy or DCM occurs in cats where it is associated with a nutritional deficiency.  Dilated cardiomyopathy is one of the most common heart diseases in dogs, according to the Pet Health Network. With DCM, heart muscles degenerate and wear thin. Thinner muscle walls decrease the heart’s contractility (how strong it can contract and pump blood), which effectively leads to congestive heart failure.  DCM is a serious disease of the heart muscle which causes the heart to beat more weary and to enlarge. There are two major types of cardiomyopathy dogs suffer from: Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), and Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is less common in dogs than cats.  We don’t entirely understand what causes DCM in dogs, this type of cardiomyopathy is most often diagnosed in large and giant breed dogs who are middle-aged and older. The disease is at least partly genetic, and nutrition may also play a part.  

The 4 stages of playing frisbee...

First Jake lays in the grass (upside down), Maggie gets Jake and they play frisbee stealing each other’s Kong frisbees, they both run up on the hill and look at me, and then relax on the patio 🙂

Although it is still not clear as to the exact cause, studies show that a deficiency of an amino acid called Taurine.  Taurine is an amino sulfonic acid aiding in cardiac function, eye health, immune system function, and multiple other systems.  Found in meat-based proteins, taurine helps build proteins concentrated heavily in the heart muscles, the eyes and brain. L carnitine and taurine supplementation is important to consider, especially in pets’ prone to cardiac stress because both are significant amino acids for dogs and cats’ heart health.  This is also a great resource on Taurine and Carnitine supplements – http://www.dogaware.com/health/heart.html
Scientists also noticed that both the typical and atypical breeds were more likely to be eating boutique or grain-free diets, and diets with exotic ingredients like kangaroo, lentils, duck, pea, lava bean, buffalo, tapioca, salmon, lamb barley, bison, venison, and chickpeas.  Even some vegan diets and dogs eating raw or home-prepared diets are affected.  In a conversation with my vet last week about feeding Jake and Maggie Stella and Chewy grain free raw coated kibbled, he stressed that feeding them a Taurine supplement would be highly beneficial for them.  Based on Jake and Maggie’s weight, I am to give them 500 MG twice a day!  I re-read the bag label and ingredients and found Taurine to be added.  I placed a call to see if that is enough or should I proceed with a supplement.  Dr. Brown is in surgery right now but will call me later.

If you are feeding your dog a boutique, grain-free, or exotic ingredient diet, watch for early signs of heart disease.  Look for weakness, slowing down, less able to exercise, short of breath, coughing, or fainting.  Your veterinarian will listen for a heart murmur or abnormal rhythm and may do additional test (or send you to see a cardiologist), such as x-rays, blood tests, electrocardiogram, or ultrasound of the heart (echocardiogram).

If your dog is diagnosed with DCM and eating of these diets, the following steps are recommended:

Ask your vet to test whole blood and plasma taurine levels
Report it to the FDA.  This can be done online or by phone.  The FDA may be able to help with testing costs for your dog.  Reporting it will also help identify and solve this current problem.
Change your dog’s diet to one made by a well-known reputable company and containing standard ingredients (e.g., chicken, beef, rice, corn, wheat). Changing to a raw or homecooked diet will not protect your dog from this issue (and may increase the risk for other nutritional deficiencies).  If your dog requires a homecooked diet or has other medical conditions that require special considerations, be sure to talk to a veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist (acvn.org) before making a dietary change.  You can contact the Cummings Nutrition Service to schedule an appointment (vetnutrition@tufts.edu)
Start taurine supplementation. Your veterinarian or veterinary cardiologist can recommend an appropriate dose for your dog.  Be sure to use a brand of taurine with good quality control.
Any improvements in your dog’s DCM can take 3-6 months. Your dog will need regular monitoring and may require heart medications during this time. There’s no guarantee she’ll improve but is certainly worth a try.
Make sure your dog is getting the best combination of medications to treat his heart disease, as this can make a difference in his outcome. You can find a board-certified veterinary cardiologist near you on this website: http://find.vetspecialists.com/


Dilated Cardiomyopathy – An overview of the FDA Investigation: (I received this information from my vet and want to relay it to you).

560 cases of dogs affected by DCM have been reported to the FDA
119 of the 560 cases of DCM affected dogs have resulted in death
91% of DCM cases reported to the FDA were labeled Grain Free
93% of DCM cases reported to the FDA contained peas and/or lentils

Breeds most commonly reported to FDA:

Golden Retreivers
Mixed breeds
Labrador retriever
Great Dane
Pit Bull
German Shepherd
Doberman Pinscher
Australian Shepherd
German SH Pointer
Shetland Sheepdog
American Bulldog
Cocker Spaniel
Standard Poodle
Shih Tzu

Dog food brands linked to 10 or more of the DCM cases reported to the FDA:

Taste of the Wild
Earthborn Holistic
Blue Buffalo
Nature’s Domain
California natural
Nature’s Vanity
Rachel Ray Nutrish



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  1. Carla Evans

    Good info! It is just as important to do proper research in what you are feeding your pets as it is to what we humans are eating! I eat no red meat so have to take the right supplements and make sure I eat the proper nutritional options in order to maintain my health…so, makes sense to do that for my fur babies????

    • Bobbi

      Absolutely! Well put.


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