The Silent Dog Killer You’ve Never Heard Of

I read a heartbreaking story a few days ago.  A seemingly healthy Doberman died suddenly from a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).  A condition its owner was unaware he suffered from.

How devastating to lose a beloved pet to an illness you were unaware they had!

This horrible ailment can be a silent killer.  But it’s my hope that if you know what to look for, you may catch some early warning signs.  Early diagnosis and treatment can increase life expectancy and quality of life.

But unfortunately DCM is fatal.

What is dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)?

DCM is a disease of the heart muscle that affects its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body.  From the picture below you can see that the disease causes the heart to enlarge and the walls of the heart to thin.

DCM in Dogs 2

Usually DCM affects one side of the heart more than the other.  In this illustration, the left side is enlarged.

An enlarged heart becomes overloaded, has weakened contractions, and can’t pump blood properly to the rest of the body.  Over time, this leads to congestive heart failure and death.

DCM occurs in dogs between the ages of 4 and 10 years old and more often in males than females.

It is most common in large and giant breeds like Dobermans, Boxers, Scottish Deerhounds, Irish Wolfhounds, Great Danes and Newfoundlands.  But this condition also affects Cocker Spaniels.

Despite the prevalence in large breeds, DCM can happen to any breed but it’s not often found in small dogs… except for the Cocker.

Because some breeds are predisposed, there’s clearly a genetic component.  But no one is certain what brings this malady on.

A deficiency in taurine or carnitine has contributed to DCM in Dobermans, Boxers and Cockers.

Other underlying conditions like low thyroid levels, inflammation of the heart muscle, prolonged rapid heart rate, and poor blood flow to the heart muscle can also cause DCM.

What are the signs of dilated cardiomyopathy?

A dog with DCM could die unexpectedly, never having exhibited any symptoms of this deadly condition… like that Doberman I read about.  An irregular heart rhythm brought on by DCM is all it takes sometimes.

At first, the symptoms may be subtle and go undetected without a thorough exam.  Breathing that has a muffled or crackling sound due to fluid buildup in the lungs isn’t something you would notice. Missing pulse waves (which cause an irregular heart rhythm) and slow capillary refill time (the time it takes for the color to return after pressing on the gums) are signs of DCM that you would find only if you were looking for them.

More obvious symptoms like lethargy, loss of appetite, rapid or excessive breathing, coughing (especially during activity), excessive panting, and reduced interest in exercise are all signs that something serious is wrong.  The sooner you see your vet and they diagnose DCM, the faster you can begin treatment.

If your dog’s DCM has progressed to congestive heart failure, you’ll know by:

A swollen belly from fluid buildup

Fainting due to lack of oxygen flowing to the brain

A bluish gray tongue or gum color from poor oxygen flow

Weight loss due to inability to store healthy fat

Once the condition has progressed to heart failure life expectancy is 6 to 24 months depending on the breed and the progression of the disease.  Dobermans are so severely affected by this disease they rarely live more than 6 months. Cockers will survive longer.

What is so sad about DCM is the signs seem to develop over night.  But for months—maybe even years—the heart muscle abnormality is progressing silently.

If your vet suspects your dog is suffering from DCM, they will do a thorough examination. But they’ll want to run tests too.  A chest x-ray, electrocardiogram, and an echocardiogram will help to determine how the disease is progressing.

How about treatments for DCM?

The treatments that exist will improve heart function and treat the symptoms. There is no cure.  In fact in humans, a heart transplant would be indicated for this condition.

Your vet will prescribe drugs to improve heart contraction and slow rapid beating.  Diuretics will control fluid buildup in the lungs.

Vasodilators are drugs that induce dilation of the blood vessels and vets often prescribe them for DCM.

If your dog has a taurine or carnitine deficiency, their treatment may include supplements or a food like Husse’s Ocean Care or Optimal Limited that have these nutrients.  A thyroid problem will need thyroid treatment.

Your vet will decide the best course of action based on your dog’s needs.  But the treatment will only improve your dog’s quality of life for their remaining time with you, which the treatment may lengthen somewhat.

This is one of those conditions we as pet parents can’t control.  But we can educate ourselves so we may lessen our beloved pets’ suffering.

Has dilated cardiomyopathy affected your dog?  Share your experience in the comment section above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Do You Have A Smelly Cat?

If you were a fan of the ‘90s sitcom, Friends, you’re probably chuckling a little inside after reading the title of this week’s post.  As I was writing the post that little tune kept running through my head.

In spite of the funny reference, this is really a serious topic.

Cat owners know one of the many benefits of cat ownership is they rarely smell.

Cats are fastidious groomers.  They use their sandpaper tongues to keep themselves clean and generally unsmelly.

If your cat has an odor, there’s something going on.  And that something can be serious.  Don’t ignore it.  See your vet for a diagnosis and the proper treatment.

If you’re trying to decipher your cat’s aroma so your doc has good information, the odor is coming from one of four places; its mouth, its ears, its rear-end or its skin.

Mouth Odor

Unlike dog breath, cat breath is not usually unpleasant.  If you get close to your cat’s mouth, and it smells bad, a few things could be at play.

Your cat may suffer from dental disease.  This is a particular problem as cats age.  Plaque and tartar accumulate on the teeth.  This can cause inflamed gums that separate from the teeth.  Food can get lodged in the gaps.  And that food can rot and smell bad. It can also cause a stinky bacterial infection.

Loose teeth can cause the same problem by creating gaps between the gums and the teeth.

A foreign object lodged in the mouth, trauma to the mouth, and oral tumors can all cause mouth odor.

Stomatitis is a painful condition that causes inflammation of the mouth and gums, and can cause ulcers.  This can lead to bad breath too.

If your cat’s mouth smells like poop, they may have an intestinal obstruction or liver disease.  If it smells like urine that’s a sign of kidney disease.

Diabetes can make your cat’s breath sweet or fruity smelling.  But as the disease progresses, the stench may be more nail polish-like, if you can believe that.

If your cat’s mouth smells unusual in any way, see your vet.  These conditions can be serious and painful for your cat.  Early treatment can lessen the effects of these afflictions.

Ear odor

When you get your face in there to give your kitty a kiss on the top of their head, it shouldn’t be stinky.

If your cat’s ears smell, they may be infected .  Yeast is often the cause and will have a musty scent.  You may also notice a discharge.

An infection often comes from an underlying problem like allergies, ear mites, an object stuck in the ear, and sometimes tumors.  You must get to the underlying problem to get to the right treatment.  Your vet will figure out the best course of action.

And if you’re uncertain what ear mites are, they look like coffee grounds in your cat’s ear.  An infestation can have a foul odor.

Smelly rear-end

Because cats are such diligent groomers, it’s rare to get a whiff of poop or pee.  If suddenly you do, there could be matted poopin their fur or they could have a urinary tract infection.  This can be especially problematic with long hair cats.

Or maybe your cat is not grooming themselves.  If your cat is sick, overweight or in pain this can happen. It’s just too difficult for them.  If you know they suffer from a condition that makes grooming hard, you may need to step in and help by cleaning their rear-end and bathing them regularly.  Especially if they have diarrhea or soft stool.

If your cat has always been a fastidious groomer andsuddenly stops cleaning themselves, see the vet.  They’re telling you something.

Anal glands are another rear-end problem.  Their purpose is to mark territory with their excretions.  And when your healthy cat is excited or scared, the anal glands may excrete this smelly fluid.

Unlike dogs’ anal glands, cats will rarely have a problem with theirs.  But, it can happen… and it’s pretty stinky.  They can develop the rare infection or possibly a tumor.

The glands can also become inflamed causing the opening to the gland ducts to become blocked.  The fluid in the glands will not drain properly. This can smell.

Cats can have overactive anal glands that secrete more than they should.  This can also cause an odor.

Any concern about secretions from the hindquarters warrants a trip to the vet.

Skin odor

If you can’t locate the specific location the odor is coming from, it’s possible your cat has stopped grooming himself.  As I mentioned before, a sick cat or one who is overweight or in pain may stop grooming.  If so, their coat will look greasy and unkempt.  And they will just be generally smelly.

This is a sign of an underlying health problem.  Talk to your vet to get a proper diagnosis.

Another cause of skin odor is infection, either bacterial or yeast.   Infections can be caused by trauma to the skin.  They can also be caused by an allergy that leads to scratching.

If your kitty is an outdoor cat, or spends any time outside, you should check them regularly for bite wounds.  When cats fight, their wounds can turn into abscesses that swell with pus.  If they burst, they stink.

A wound can turn into an abscess in 24 hours.  So run your hands over your cat every time they come in from outside.  When cats fight they usually bite the base of the tail, the legs, the face and neck, and along the back.  If you touch these spots and your cat flinches, inspect the area.

Once the wound becomes abscessed, your cat will be lethargic and may not eat.  They’ll flinch when touched because an abscess is very painful.

See the vet before the abscess gets so severe it requires surgery.

Because cats generally smell good, a bad smell is a sign of trouble.  Heed the warning and get the help of your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Has your cat been smelly?  What was the diagnosis?  Share your experience in the comment section at the top.  You might help someone else.