Goals of Treating DCM
All but the most severely affected dogs with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) usually can be treated on an outpatient basis, meaning that they rarely require hospitalization. The therapeutic goals for treating DCM are to resolve the signs of any associated congestive heart failure, alleviate any build-up of fluid in the lungs, chest and/or abdomen, improve the force of heart muscle contractions, control life-threatening irregular heart rhythms, relieve the dog’s discomfort and improve the dog’s overall quality of life. Unfortunately, cure of DCM is not possible.
Dogs in acute respiratory distress can be given oxygen in the veterinary clinic either in an oxygen cage or through a mask, depending upon their size. They should be kept in a warm, quiet environment and administered intravenous fluids to correct any electrolyte or fluid imbalances, if necessary. A number of diuretic medications can be prescribed to relieve pleural effusion and/or pulmonary edema if they are present. Diuretics are medications that increase urine excretion. Fluid can also be drained from the thoracic (chest) cavity using a procedure called thoracocentesis. This is a somewhat invasive procedure that involves inserting a sterile needle into the chest cavity and basically suctioning off excess fluid through an attanched syringe. Many drugs, including vasodilators, ACE inhibitors, beta blockers and calcium channel blockers, are available to help stabilize and regulate heart contractility, activity and function. Owners of dogs with DCM may be referred to a specialized board-certified veterinary cardiologist for specific treatment protocols and follow-up.
Affected dogs usually should be allowed to select their own level of activity and exercise throughout the day. They should be fed a diet that is low in sodium, although extreme sodium restriction usually is not necessary if the dog responds well to pharmaceutical management. The treating veterinarian can recommend a good commercially available diet. Prescription diets are also available.
Unfortunately, dilated cardiomyopathy is almost always fatal within 6 to 24 months after the date of diagnosis. Many affected animals live with the condition without ever showing any apparent symptoms, and then simply drop dead without warning. Doberman Pinschers usually have the gravest prognosis, living on average less than 6 months following diagnosis of their disease. Dogs with severe heart rhythm abnormalities, such as atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia, often have a very short survival time and may die suddenly without any prior warning.