Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs: Signs & Dietary Link

Four Minutes
Mar 08, 2024

Our canine companions have the biggest hearts, which is evident by the unconditional love they show us. To keep those loving hearts healthy, it’s important for pet owners to understand a common heart condition in dogs, referred to as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

Learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for DCM.

What Is Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs?

Canine DCM is a form of heart disease that causes the heart to weaken, making it more difficult for the heart to properly pump blood throughout the body. This condition often results in the enlargement of the heart due to the lack of effective blood circulation. It most commonly impacts the left side of the heart, particularly the wall of the left ventricle.1

What Dog Breeds Get DCM?

Certain dog breeds are more predisposed to DCM than others. These tend to be larger breed dogs, such as boxers, Great Danes, Doberman pinschers, Saint Bernards, Irish wolfhounds, golden retrievers, and Labrador retrievers.2 The condition may also be more common in dogs between the ages of 4 and 10.2

While these dogs may have a higher risk, it’s important to know that DCM can affect any dog, regardless of breed or age. Various factors, including genetics, nutritional deficiencies, and infectious diseases can contribute to the development of DCM in dogs.2

What Causes DCM in Dogs?

As mentioned above, the causes of DCM can vary. While the precise cause is a topic of ongoing debate, DCM has primarily been associated with a genetic predisposition in specific breeds.3,4 However, dogs can also develop non-hereditary forms of the disease due to medical conditions or nutritional factors.4

For instance, in some dogs, DCM is linked to a taurine deficiency.2 Taurine is an amino acid that’s primarily found in fish and meat.5 Some dogs may need more nutritional support in the form of supplements to get the taurine they need for a healthy diet.1

Because an unbalanced diet can be a factor in developing DCM, it’s important to be aware of the ingredients in your dog’s food.

When in Doubt, Get Your Dog Checked Out

Pet Insurance Can Help

DCM’s Link to Dog Food

Research conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), explores a possible connection between non-hereditary DCM and dog food. Notably, the studies revealed an association between DCM and grain-free diets containing legumes. Legume seeds, also known as “pulses,” include things like peas, lentils, beans, and chickpeas.4

While both grain-free and grain-containing formulas were linked to DCM, the FDA highlights that pulse ingredients are more prevalent in grain-free diets.4 However, the FDA also emphasizes that pulses have been a longstanding ingredient used in pet food, and there’s no evidence to suggest they are inherently harmful to your dog.4

More research may be needed to definitively determine the relationship between certain diets and canine DCM. If you're concerned about your dog's nutrition, it’s a good idea to consult with your veterinarian before making any significant changes to their diet.

Symptoms of DCM in Dogs

The signs and symptoms of DCM can vary depending on severity. The disease can be harder to detect in the earlier stages, as most dogs don’t show signs until it becomes more advanced.2,6

Common symptoms of DCM may include:2,6

  • Coughing
  • Weight loss
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular or weak heartbeat
  • Lethargy
  • Fainting
  • Distended abdomen
  • Decreased appetite
  • Panting
  • Weakness

How Vets Diagnose DCM

Your veterinarian can use several methods to diagnose your dog for DCM. The diagnostic process will often involve one or more of the following:1,2

  • Auscultation: A stethoscope might be used to listen to the rhythm and intensity of your dog's heart, as well as to detect any abnormal sounds known as heart murmurs.
  • Blood and urine tests: These tests may help detect protein and nutrient deficiencies and check liver and kidney function.
  • X-rays: These may be used to help assess any abnormalities in your dog's heart and lungs.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): This measures the electrical activity of the heart and can reveal irregularities in your dog’s heartbeat.
  • Echocardiogram: This procedure uses ultrasound to measure the size and thickness of your dog's heart walls to help determine if their heart is functioning properly.

Treating DCM in Dogs

Treating DCM in dogs involves a holistic approach focused on managing the disease and improving quality of life. Depending on the underlying cause of the condition, treatment methods can vary.

Common treatment strategies for DCM may include:1,2

  • Dietary changes: For dogs with dietary DCM, adjusting their diet may help manage the condition. This might mean switching to a diet that meets specific nutritional needs and avoiding ingredients that have been linked to DCM.
  • Supplements: If taurine deficiency is identified as a contributing factor to your dog’s condition, your vet may recommend taurine supplements. Supplements can be particularly useful for breeds prone to taurine deficiency and other amino acid deficiencies, such as carnitine.
  • Medications: Your vet might prescribe medications to address various aspects of the condition, such as managing fluid retention, improving heart function, and lowering blood pressure. Some common DCM medications include diuretics, ACE inhibitors, and anti-arrhythmic drugs.

The treatment and management of DCM is typically a long-term process, as the condition isn’t reversible.2 Depending on the cause, the condition might progressively decline with no ultimate cure. The life expectancy of a dog diagnosed with DCM will vary — some pass after 6 months, while others may do well clinically for 1 to 2 years.2 Your vet can help you determine what the best course of action is for your dog, so they can live the healthiest and happiest life possible with DCM.

How Pet Insurance Can Help With DCM Costs and Care

Dealing with the costs and care associated with canine DCM can be challenging. Managing DCM comes with several expenses that can vary based on where you live, the severity of the condition, and the specific treatments required. This is where pet insurance can help. Instead of worrying about how you can pay for vet care, consider getting pet insurance to help cover the cost of DCM and other common pet conditions.

For a better understanding of the potential costs and to prepare for any unexpected vet expenses, consider getting a free quote today from MetLife Pet.

Help Protect Your Pup From DCM

 Dr. Hunter Finn

Dr. Hunter Finn has been paid by MetLife to discuss the importance of choosing pet insurance. He is an integrative veterinary expert first, and social media star second. He  owns Pet Method in McKinney, Texas, where he cares for pets while prioritizing their emotional well-being. When he’s not at his clinic, he’s starring in viral videos on TikTok (2 million followers) and Instagram (500K followers) — where he’s been known to snuggle puppies and conquer the latest dance trends. 

**As with any insurance policy, coverage may vary. Review our coverage and exclusions.

1 “Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs,” VCA Animal Hospital,

2 “DCM in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment,” Westport Veterinary Associates

3 “Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM),” Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine

4 “Questions & Answers: FDA’s Work on Potential Causes of Non-Hereditary DCM in Dogs,” FDA

5 “Taurine,” National Library of Medicine

6 “Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in Dogs,” Great Pet Care

Coverage issued by Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, and Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 11333 N Scottsdale Rd, Ste 160, Scottsdale, AZ 85454. Coverage subject to restrictions, exclusions and limitations and application is subject to underwriting. See policy or contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC (“MetLife Pet”) for details. MetLife Pet is the policy administrator. It may operate under an alternate or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota) and MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois).

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