Corn…is it as bad as everybody says?

If there is an ingredient in pet food today that seems to get an immediate negative reaction- it has to be corn.  Ever wonder why that is?  When I was growing up nobody ever said, “oh honey you better ask your Mom before you eat that” when I reached for an ear of corn on the cob!

Let’s examine the truths and myths about corn and give you a clearer picture of when and if corn is acceptable for your pets.

GMO’s/PESTICIDES

Corn is the most genetically modified food there is.  To transform a plant into a GMO plant, the gene that produces a genetic trait of interest is identified and separated from the rest of the genetic material from a donor organism.  If you need a better understanding of GMO’s reference a post we did https://happytailsfromhusse.com/2015/11/25/genetically-engineered-food-and-our-pets/

Corn has many variations of modification.  In the US we have “Roundup Ready Corn”, “Liberty Link Corn” and “BT Corn”.  All of these are approved in the US by the FDA, but many people avoid eating GMO crops.  If you feed you pet food produced in the United States and it is not certified GMO Free or Organic it is almost certain it contains Genetically Modified ingredients, and if it contains corn it is most certainly GMO corn.

Crops in the US are commonly treated with Glyphosate as a pesticide.  This is a chemical that has been banned in many countries around the world.  The World Health Organization has stated it is “probably carcinogenic to humans”.

If you do not feed a GMO free or Organic pet food, then choose one that does not contain corn (or other grains grown in the US).

CORN AS A FILLER

Corn is cheap.  Many lower cost food producers will use corn as a primary ingredient as a lower cost alternative to high quality animal protein.  Corn is not a protein.  A balanced diet for a dog or cat (just like humans) means having a portion of your diet protein and carbs.  Dogs and cats need the primary ingredient in their diet to be high quality protein.  Protein with the highest biologic value (this is the scale that identifies the nutritional value of protein) will be protein derived from animal meat (chicken, fish etc.).  While there is some protein in corn or wheat it is not enough or the quality of protein you would look to as a primary source.

Assuming you feed a GMO free or Organic pet food then you still want corn to be added to the food in a reasonable portion.  It should not be the first ingredient.  While all pet foods will disclose the percentage of protein the food contains, not all foods will disclose the percentage of that protein that is derived from animal protein (Husse does disclose this).  This is an excellent way to understand where the protein in the food is coming from.  

CORN CAUSES ALLERGIES

There is no real evidence that corn is more likely to provoke allergic reaction than other carbohydrates such as wheat, rice or potatoes.  All these carbs must be cooked to become digestible for animals.  Again, many people and animals report having allergic reactions to pesticides or GMO crops, so all these carbs need to be identified as certified GMO free or Organic.

So, to answer “Is corn bad?”.  Simple answer is no…BUT unfortunately the quality of the corn in the U.S. is not the greatest. Maybe today I would get permission from my Mom before eating that corn on the cob!  Additionally, pet food companies have mis-used this ingredient because it is cheap.  If the corn is high quality and used in an appropriate portion it is an acceptable carbohydrate.

 

HOW TO MAKE SURE HALLOWEEN ISN’T SPOOKY FOR YOUR PET

I don’t think we need to go through the obvious issues that can be dangerous for your pets during the Halloween season.  Obvious…don’t let your pets get into the candy.  Obvious… don’t let them hurt themselves on lit candles in the jack-o-lantern.  But there might be some more subtle tips this October you haven’t thought about.

There are so many things happening at this time that can simply stress your pet out.  This can be very stressful for your furry family members that are not used to it.  Even if your pet dog loves kids it is can be too much with the constant ring of the doorbell or knocking, the sheer number of visitors and the weird appearance of their human friends.  Get your pets into a safe room and maybe turn a TV or radio on before the night starts.  If your pet likes their crate this might be your best bet.  Do not leave your pets in the yard to avoid the front door traffic.  There will still be too much activity, not to mention there are many creatures that are nocturnal may be out at night.

I want to remind people that when dogs have stress or anxiety they get diarrhea.  People will often think…they didn’t eat anything out of the ordinary so why does my dog have diarrhea.  They wear their feelings in their stomach and stress is a very common cause of soft poo.

Halloween is second only to 4th of July for the number of pets that are “spooked” and wind up at the shelter.  So, no matter what make sure your pet has ID or is chipped.

Maybe you are not planning to host strangers to your home, but hosting some close friends for a small costume party?  Even if these are people your pet is familiar with costumes can look and smell different and it may catch your fur kids off guard.  Again, it is probably best to let them stay in a safe place.

Like we said…you know your pet can’t eat candy.  But also, be aware of those candy wrappers…the pup will eat those up too.  Foil or cellophane wrappers can cause dangerous obstructions.  The dangerous food you DON’T think about is raisins.  People hand them out as a healthy alternative to candy, but it is equally as dangerous to your pet.

Love to play dress up?  Well you have already read the articles about how your pet may not like dressing up as much as you like seeing them dressed up.  But the risk you probably have not thought about related to this are the “parts” of costumes that can be chewed off and ingested. This is something that ER Vet offices see this time of year.

When you have safely made it to November 1st don’t throw that pumpkin away.  First you should be starting with a whole organic pumpkin.  If you carved it and it sat on the porch it could be growing bacteria so pitch it.  But, if you have a whole pumpkin that is still fresh it can now be yummy post Halloween treats.  Both raw and cooked pumpkin is safe for pets. (If your dog or cat has diabetes or chronic kidney disease, always ask your vet first.)  The pumpkin seeds can be roasted and used as individual treats too!  Pumpkin actually has health benefits for your pet…we wrote about this previously  https://happytailsfromhusse.com/2016/11/02/pumpkin-for-dogs-and-cats-6-reasons-to-give-it-to-your-pet/

Why Dogs Eat Poop

Have you ever had a dog that ate poop?  Two of my dogs found poop to be quite a delicacy.  It’s a repulsive problem.

Shockingly, 16% of dogs eat their poop regularly, according to a study done at the University of California at Davis.  And it’s a common reason for re-homing or euthanizing a dog.  That’s sad!

What would cause a dog to develop this disgusting habit?

Well, in puppies coprophagia (poop eating) is instinctual.  In older dogs, it’s a health or behavior issue.

A normal puppy will often eat their poop because they’ve learned this behavior from Mom.  To keep her den clean and to protect her babies from predators, Mom eats the poop to get rid of the scent.

A puppy will follow Mom’s lead and learn to eat poop but they’ll usually outgrow the habit.

Sometimes though, the taste of poop can become normal for a puppy because they taste and smell it on their mom’s mouth.  She may regurgitate food that’s mixed with the poop she’s eaten.

Mom also licks the pups tush to stimulate pooping in the first three weeks, which also leaves fecal matter in her mouth.

The puppy becomes used to the scent of poop on Mom’s breath and the taste of poop when the feces mixes with regurgitated food.

This normalization can make breaking the poop eating habit difficult.

While exploring the world, eating poop is normal for a puppy.  But if they are eating a well-balanced healthy diet, they should stop doing this.

Why wouldn’t a puppy outgrow poop eating and why would an older dog suddenly start?

Sometimes poop eating in puppies continues long after it should stop because they think food should be poop flavored from their days with Mom.

But they may also continue to do this for health or behavioral reasons.  In addition, an older dog may suddenly start scavenging for poop.

If your adult dog is eating poop and they’re showing other symptoms like weight loss, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea or behavioral changes, this could be the sign of a health issue.  Talk to your vet.

Here are the main causes of coprophagia.

Poor digestion – Feeding a diet that’s low in digestible nutrients may cause the food to come out the way it went in.  To your dog, that tastes good.  A problem with the digestive system may also cause the food to come out undigested.

Diseases of the intestinal tract, liver and brain, parasites, malabsorption syndromes, diabetes, Cushing’s, thyroid disease –  Your vet can rule these out.

Drugs – Some medications like steroids can cause your dog to eat poop.

Boredom –  If you leave your dog alone for hours, they may play with and eat their stool.

Stress – A dog that’s crated for long periods or a dog that’s re-homed may eat poop because they are under stress.  Any stressful situation can bring this habit on.

Hunger – Is your dog getting enough to eat during the day?  If they aren’t, anything that seems edible will do as far as your dog is concerned.  If you aren’t sure how much to feed, ask your vet.

A dog can also be hungry if they’re harboring a parasite that’s leaching nutrients from their system.  Your dog will look to supplement their diet any way they can.

Attention Seeking – If you’ve freaked when you’ve seen your dog eat poop, they’ve learned they can get you to react when they do.  Even if they’re getting negative attention, they may continue to eat poop to get a rise out of you.

Alternatively, a dog may eat their poop to get rid of the evidence if you’ve yelled at them for having an accident.

Restrictive confinement – Puppy mill dogs crated all day may eat poop.  In addition, these dogs may lack food, which encourages poop eating.

I rescued a greyhound that was a poop eater.  Long hours crated at the track was probably the cause.

Isolation –  Dogs locked in a basement or garage away from their people may eat poop.

Associating poop with food –  This can happen if you feed your dog too close to where they do their business.

Living with a sick or elderly dog –  A healthy dog may eat the sick dog’s poop to protect the pack from predators… instinct.

If you live in a multi-dog home and one of the dog’s eats the poop of another, it could be a sign that the pooper is sick and not sufficiently digesting their food.  To the poop eater, eating their housemates poop is like scoring another meal.

And finally, some dogs just like to eat poop.

How can you stop this behavior?

From my experience I can tell you it’s difficult to end this behavior if a health problem isn’t the cause.

Start by feeding a high–quality digestible food like HusseThis will ensure your dog’s body is using the protein, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in their food and not pooping them out.

Assess your dog’s level of exercise, playtime and the attention you give them.  Dogs need those things.  If they’re not getting what they need from you, they’ll let you know.  And they may do that by eating their poop.

You can try additives in the food.  These stool-eating deterrents never worked for my dogs.  And studies show they work in only 2% of cases.  Some say meat tenderizer added to the food makes the poop unpleasant as a snack.

The best advice is to be diligent about picking up your dog’s poop as soon as they go.  And always walk your dog on a leash so they can’t eat another dog’s poop.

There haven’t been many studies of coprophagia even though it’s a common habit.  But the little research that’s been done revealed things about a dog’s preferences.

Interestingly, dogs will rarely eat soft poop or diarrhea.  They like their stool snacks firm.  Most dogs that eat poop want it to be fresh… 1 to 2 days old.  Females are most likely to eat poop and intact males are least likely.

And 85% of poop eaters prefer eating another dog’s poop to their own.

Even if your dog doesn’t eat dog poop, most dogs love cat and horse poop.  So prevent access to this delicacy if you own a cat or your dog is around horses.

Although coprophagia is a difficult behavior to change, you can avoid the problem by cleaning up after your dog and controlling them on a leash when you are away from home.  Much better alternatives to giving your pet up, or worse yet, euthanizing them.

Does your dog eat its poop?  How do you handle the problem?  Share your experience in the comment section at the top of the page.

 

Pancreatitis… Holiday Indulgence Is A Risk To Your Dog

This time of year veterinarians see a spike in cases of canine acute pancreatitis.  People aren’t the only ones who overdue it on the holidays.

If your dog has consumed more fatty table scraps than usual, or maybe got into the garbage and devoured the fatty remains of the carved turkey this Thanksgiving, they may find themselves with a case of this very painful condition.

The pancreas is an organ in the body that produces and secretes enzymes that aid in digestion. This organ also makes insulin, which controls blood sugar levels and metabolism.

Acute pancreatitis is the sudden (acute) onset of inflammation in the pancreas.  The inflammation makes the digestive enzymes start working in the pancreas instead of waiting until the enzymes reach the small intestine where they normally get to work.  As a result, the enzymes start digesting the pancreas.

In severe cases of pancreatitis, the enzymes leak into the abdomen causing the digestion of other organs too.  This can seriously damage the organs and result in death if not treated quickly.

Causes

There are things besides overdoing the fatty table scraps that can cause the sudden onset of pancreatitis.  Other contributors are:

Obesity

High-fat diets

Endocrine diseases

Medications

Toxins

Trauma to the abdomen

Scorpion stings (not a problem for most dogs in most of the country)

 

Sometimes, the cause is unknown.

Pancreatitis can occur in any dog but it’s more common in miniature schnauzers, miniature poodles and cocker spaniels.  It’s also more common in older dogs that are overweight and female.

Symptoms

The most common signs of pancreatitis are the same things you’d see if your dog was suffering from a thousand other illnesses: loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

But some other more concerning symptoms can occur like a swollen abdomen, an arched back, lethargy, restlessness, gagging, difficulty breathing, dehydration, and an increased heart rate.  In some cases, your dog may run a fever too.

If you suspect your dog has overloaded on too many table scraps passed under the table by doting relatives and they are exhibiting these symptoms, call your vet immediately.

Diagnosis and treatment

Your vet will take a full medical history and do a complete physical exam.  In addition, they’ll run blood work and may also do imaging, like ultrasound or x-rays.

Treatment will mostly consist of managing symptoms.  Meds to relieve pain and reduce vomiting and nausea.  IV hydration and nutritional supplementation. And maybe antibiotics if there’s a secondary infection.

Your vet may also restrict food and fluid intake to allow for healing.  Depending on the severity of your dog’s symptoms, treatment may mean hospitalization.

Once the symptoms are under control and your dog can be at home, your vet may limit activity and recommend a low fat, high carb diet.  This diet may be temporary until the pancreas heals, or permanent if pancreatitis is recurring or chronic.

Most healthy dogs will recover from acute pancreatitis.  A dog that has other health problems may have a harder time getting over it.

And severe cases can be fatal.

Prevention

Although you can’t completely prevent pancreatitis, you can most definitely reduce the risk of your dog getting it.  Manage your dog’s weight, avoid high-fat diets and table scraps, and keep the garbage pail out of your dog’s reach.

Feeding a well-balanced premium dog food like Husse can help prevent this condition.  Husse formulates their foods to provide the right balance between protein, fat and carbohydrates.

Husse Pro Limited, Prima Plus, Senior and Optimal Limited are all specially formulated for weight management and contain 9% or less fat.

Risks

Pancreatitis is unpredictable.  If the case is mild, and it’s your dog’s first episode, they will likely recover fine.  You may only need to watch their diet to prevent recurrence.  But sometimes what seems like a mild case can recur and be serious.

A dog with chronic (recurring) pancreatitis can develop serious complications.  The digestive enzymes can destroy the insulin producing cells in the pancreas resulting in diabetes.

And a condition called pancreatic insufficiency or maldigestion syndrome can result when the nutrients in your dog’s food aren’t absorbed.  They’re pooped out instead. This can cause malnutrition.

Your dog will be ravenous, have diarrhea and lose weight if they are suffering from maldigestion syndrome.  And although they are eating, they are starving to death because their body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs.

It’s best to manage your dog’s overall health to avoid pancreatitis, and these serious and life-threatening complications.  Like with most other illnesses, early diagnosis of pancreatitis will improve your dog’s long-term prognosis.

Is your dog suffering from holiday overeating?  Has your dog ever had pancreatitis?  Share your experience in the comment section above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coconut Oil… The Risks And Benefits To Our Pets

If you’re keeping up with the latest human health trends, you may feel like I do…  every wellness recommendation includes coconut oil.  It seems to be the panacea of the 2010s.

Many animal health sites tout the benefits of coconut oil too.  I was with a friend recently who told me her holistic vet prescribed it for several of her dog’s ailments.

That got me thinking… is coconut oil everything it’s cracked up to be?  Are there benefits to using this oil with our pets?  And are there risks?

Well, there are some definite benefits to using coconut oil.  But also many unfounded claims about its effectiveness. And there can be risks.

The truth

Coconut oil comes from mature coconuts.  It is edible, so it’s used in food.  And these days you can find coconut oil in many beauty products.

This oil is high in saturated fat and is made up mostly of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). That’s where the supposed health benefits are.

The fatty acids that make up MCTs travel directly to the liver.  The liver absorbs those fatty acids and uses them for energy.  They’re not stored in the body.

MCTs contain lauric acid, which is antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral.  They also contain capric and caprylic acids, which are antifungal.

So how can coconut oil help your pet?  It can be very beneficial when used topically.

If your pet has dry, itchy skin, cracked paw pads or a dry nose, you can rub coconut oil into the skin. It’s great for elbow calluses too.   Here’s a link to a recipe for paw balm you can make yourself.

But you don’t have to get fancy.  You can use the oil straight up with no additions.  If you’re using it on dry flaky skin, rub the oil directly into the skin.

You can also use it for a shinier coat.  Take a small amount of oil in your hands.  Rub them together and pat the coat.  Run your fingers through the fur.  Not only will coconut oil improve the look and feel of your pet’s coat, some say it will also help if your pet smells.

Coconut oil is often touted for its antibacterial use on sores and minor cuts.  Be careful with this one.  If your dog has hotspots, using coconut oil can make the problem worse.  Hotspots are self-inflicted when a dog licks obsessively.  If they like the taste of coconut oil, using it on their skin can exacerbate the licking and worsen the hotspots.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that coconut oil has antibacterial benefits but no studies have yet been done on animals.

If your pet has a skin problem, be sure to talk with your vet before using coconut oil to be certain you’re treating the underlying problem.  They may recommend you use the oil as part of a treatment plan that includes other medications.

Coconut oil may be helpful as a parasite repellent.  A small study in 2004 found that a coconut oil-based remedy was effective for repelling sand fleas and reduced inflammation from fleabites. But tests have not been done on the cat and dog flea… the ones that love your pet.

Most veterinarians suggest, if using coconut oil, combining it with traditional repellents.

A 2015 human study found rinsing the mouth with coconut oil every day reduced plaque and plaque-caused gingivitis.  You could make the leap and say it would help your dog’s dental health too.  But the study involved swishing the coconut oil around the mouth and it’s hard to get a dog to swish.

Many dogs like the taste of coconut oil and it may help with dental hygiene… and bad breath too. So if you’d like to brush your dog’s teeth with coconut oil, it probably won’t hurt.

Does your pet have a hard time swallowing a pill?  Here’s another use.  Coat the pill with coconut oil.  It will be easier for them to swallow and they generally like the flavor.

The unsubstantiated claims

Coconut oil is promoted as a cure or prevention for everything from digestive problems to cancer.  Some say it improves cognitive function in older dogs.  Others say it helps with allergies and weight loss.  None of these claims are supported by science.  There have been no studies.

That’s not to say coconut oil can’t be helpful for some of these ailments. But there just isn’t scientific proof yet.

The risks

If the anecdotal evidence is enough for you and you want to try coconut oil with your pet, speak to your vet first.  They can monitor the effects and educate you to the downside.  Because the high saturated fat content can make some conditions worse.  Pancreatitis for example.

The high fat content is also a problem if your dog is overweight.  Some veterinarians say it adds a lot of calories with little nutritional value.  And there’s concern this oil can raise cholesterol levels and block the arteries too.

Although coconut oil is well tolerated by most pets, some may have an allergic reaction. And too much can cause diarrhea.

Remember too that coconut oil does not provide the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids your pet needs in their diet.  So be sure you’re still giving your pet salmon or flaxseed oil, besides the coconut oil.

How much and what kind?

If you give your pet coconut oil, use only the organic virgin cold-pressed kind. Easy to find at any health food store.

Start slow to be sure your pet isn’t allergic and to avoid diarrhea.

Start with ¼ teaspoon a day for small dogs and 1 teaspoon a day for big dogs.  Work up to 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight per day.

If you have a cat, start with 1/8 teaspoon a day for an average size cat.  Work up to ¼ to ½ teaspoon once or twice a day.

What I’ve learned about coconut oil is that it has some proven benefits.  And it may even have greater benefits yet to be studied.  But I would proceed with caution.

Coconut oil is not a cure-all. Take the advice of your veterinarian before adding any supplement to your pet’s diet.

Do you use coconut oil for your pets?  How have they benefitted? Have they had any adverse reactions?  Share your experience with us at the top of the page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Urinary Tract Infections… 9 Signs Your Dog May Have One

Many times my articles come from my personal experiences as a pet owner.  Like this week’s post, for instance.  It came about as the result of a weekend stressing over whether my dog had a urinary tract infection (UTI).

My 10-month-old golden is in heat.  You’ll see why that’s relevant in a minute.  In my last post about spaying I mentioned there are benefits to waiting until after the first heat before spaying.  And here we are. This is her one and only cycle.

I boarded her last week because I was out of town.  When she came home she was having accidents in the house.

At first I thought maybe she’s doing this because she’s in season.  After 2 days of following her around with paper towels, I decided something’s up.

It’s been a while since once of my dogs had a UTI so I thought I should refresh my memory about the symptoms.  I did research.  By the time I finished surfing the web, I was pretty convinced she had an infection.

One soup ladle of urine and a visit to the vet later, my prediction was confirmed… UTI. More on the soup ladle in a minute.

Because these infections are unpleasant—for you the pet parent and your dog who’s in pain—I wanted to share the details of my experience.  If you know the signs to look for you can spare any unnecessary suffering.

What is a UTI?

A urinary tract infection is most often a bladder infection but it can be an infection in the kidney, ureters, or urethra.

They’re much more common in females than males.   As dogs age, they become more vulnerable.  From 7 on, dogs are more susceptible.

The cause of a UTI is usually bacteria that enter the urethra.  The bacteria can come from anywhere… poop, dirt, etc. Most often, a healthy dog will ward it off.  But a dog with a weakened immune system might not be able to fight off an infection.

That’s what happened with my girl.  It was the perfect storm.  The hormonal changes from her cycle coupled with the stress of being boarded lowered her immunity.

In addition, she had more crate time when she was boarded so she probably didn’t relieve herself as often as she would normally.  Because she didn’t flush out the bacteria, an infection took hold.

Poor nutrition can also affect the immune system resulting in an infection.  And dogs with frequent UTIs may need to change their diet as part of their treatment.

Less often, UTIs are caused by something more serious like cancer, bladder disease, kidney disease, diabetes, or prostate disease.

What are the signs?

If your dog has a UTI, the symptoms can be obvious but they can also be subtle.  Sometimes, a dog may show no signs at all.

But if your dog shows any of the following signs, it may mean a UTI.

Straining to urinate

Crying while urinating

Accidents in the house

Blood in the urine

Frequent urinating in small amounts

Dribbling urine

Frequent licking of genitals

Lethargy

Loss of appetite

My dog was having accidents in the house.  And as I think about it, her constant squatting outside was her straining to go, even though I thought it was because she was in heat.  Blood in the urine—couldn’t really tell because she was bleeding from her heat.

Other than that, she seemed normal.

UTIs feel no different to a dog than they do to a person.  A constant feeling you have to go.  Hence all the accidents.  They’re pretty miserable.

How does the vet diagnose and treat a UTI?

Here’s where the soup ladle comes in.  If you think a 10-month-old golden retriever who’s in perpetual motion will let you stick a cup under her when she’s peeing, you are mistaken.

But a soup ladle gives you the perfect trajectory.  I didn’t have to get too close to her to make her scoot away.  And she never even felt the ladle slip under her to catch the urine.  It works perfectly.  I recommend it if you ever need to get a sample.

Your vet will want a free catch sample.  This is the first morning urine.  If you’re not going straight to the vet, refrigerate the sample.

If you can’t get a sample, your vet may collect urine by inserting a needle into the bladder. This procedure is relatively painless with few complications.

They’ll do a urinalysis in the office to see if there are white blood cells in the urine indicating infection.  Then they’ll send the sample out to be cultured to find out what type of bacteria is causing the infection.  This determines which antibiotic your vet will prescribe.

In my case, the vet gave me an antibiotic he uses to treat 90% of the bacteria he sees in UTIs.  If the culture comes back tomorrow and he needs to change the meds, he will.  But he wanted to get her treatment started and he probably won’t need to make a change.

Can you prevent a UTI?

Yes and no.  You always want to be sure your dog is eating a well-balanced nutritious diet like Husse to keep their immune system functioning normally.

Also, be sure your dog is drinking enough water every day so they urinate often.

Your vet may recommend a probiotic to prevent recurring UTIs.  They get rid of the bad bacteria and help the immune system.  Many super premium foods like Husse include probiotics in their recipe.

But my dog is a healthy 10-month-old, and she got an infection.  You can’t control everything.

The good news is most dogs recover from a urinary tract infection with no complications. But you should act quickly if you suspect an infection because a UTI can travel to other organs if it’s untreated. And an infection can be the sign of a bigger underlying problem.

Has your dog ever had a UTI?  How did you know? Share in the comment section above.

 

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.