5 Minute Read: What Every Doberman Owner Should Know About DCM
Nearly 60% of Dobermans develop Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). Arming yourself with knowledge could save or greatly extend a life.
What is DCM?
DCM is the inability for the heart to contract normally, leading to abnormal heart function.This is caused by the normal heart muscle being replaced by scar (fibrosis) tissue. In Dobermans, it is typically a genetic condition.
During early stages, DCM is asymptomatic or “Occult.” As the disease progresses, the heart further dilates, increasing pressure. Eventually, congestive heart failure (CHF) begins, causing a backup of blood in the blood vessels and leads to pulmonary edema (“fluid in the lungs”).
At any stage of DCM, Dobermans are also at risk for arrhythmia. The diseased heart results in electrical abnormalities, which will then increase the risk of ventricular arrhythmia and sudden death.
What are the Symptoms of DCM?
- Occult (asymptomatic): No outward symptoms. Many dogs will have a soft murmur (grade 2/6). A cardiologist is able to view issues through an echocardiogram and Holter, and a biomarker (proBNP) blood test may help detect changes in heart function. An echocardiogram is the gold standard of these tests.
- Mild Clinical Stage: At this clinical stage, exercise intolerance, lethargy, or cough (from left atrial enlargement) are common. Most dogs will still have a low grade murmur (grade 2/6). A Holter monitor will pick up more irregular beats and runs.
- Congestive Heart Failure Stage: As DCM results in congestive heart failure (“fluid in the lungs”), Dobermans may cough (due to excess fluid), have difficulty breathing, faint (syncope) and will eventually die without treatment. Many of these dogs will require hospitalization and cardiac medications.
Prevention & Early Detection
Many Doberman owners report the gut-wrenching reality that their doberman “dropped dead” at home, running, or playing. Once Dobermans have strong, outward symptoms, they typically have just months left. The good news is, early detection before outward symptoms present can often give you many more years with your Doberman. The best case scenario for early detection includes:
- Beginning annual proBNP blood tests at one year of age to get a baseline, and more importantly compare, heart function over time. This is an ancillary screening tool and should not be used for diagnosis alone.
- Beginning annual echocardiograms (which are often paired with x-rays) at two years of age. Once echos begin annually, proBNP tests can stop.
- Beginning annual 24-hour Holter monitoring at two years of age.
- Annual vet check-ups to monitor Heart Rhythm and overall health.
- Understanding your Doberman’s genetic makeup. Testing can identify up to two genetic mutations that show your Doberman is at increased risk of DCM, which may drive you to more regular testing. However, Dobermans without these markers can just as easily get DCM.
If budget prevents you from following these critical early detection recommendations:
- Contact your local rescue or breed club to get in on their regular “echo clinics” in which echocardiograms are done at an extremely discounted price.
- Contact your local rescue or breed club to see if they have a Holter Monitor program. Many rescues, including DHDR, rent out Holter Monitors at a discount or free.
- If you absolutely can’t do regular echocardiograms, be sure to keep up on the annual vet visits and proBNP bloodwork. As your Doberman nears 7 years of age, it is critical to begin annual echocardiograms if you already have not due to budget.
If your veterinarian makes the DCM diagnosis, it is important to follow up for further diagnosis and care with a certified Veterinary Cardiologist. Find one in this state-by-state directory. In Arizona, Dr. Paige, Dr. Miller, and Dr. Church are Doberman owners’ favorites.
Total prevention of DCM is not possible. However, there are a couple things to consider:
- It is critical buyers only support ethical Doberman breeders. Ethical breeders are looking out for the very complex future of our breed, while Back Yard Breeders are continuing to destroy the genetics and makeup of our breed.
- Doberman breeders should be able to provide proof that they do annual echocardiograms on all of the dogs in their program. Selecting an ethical breeder will minimize your risk. However, DCM is so ingrained in our breed, it is still quite possible that even the most well-bred dog will get DCM.
- Diet has been a controversial topic among Doberman owners due to recent studies suggesting taurine-deficient diets lead to DCM. Since we do not have a true etiology of grain free diets and Dobermans have a high prevalence of DCM, Dr. Paige recommends against a grain free diet in this breed unless needed to mitigate severe allergies.
- Support the DPCA and local breed clubs who donate to ongoing research. Check out the Doberman Diversity Project and the work done at NC State.
Treatment of DCM
Once DCM is diagnosed by a certified Veterinary Cardiologist, Dobermans are often started on Vetmedin (generic Pimobendan), which lowers blood pressure and improves heart muscle Contraction. This drug is incredibly impactful in delaying heart failure, especially when DCM is caught early. Other drugs that are common in DCM patients include Enalapril/Benazepril (ACE inhibitor), Furosemide (removes fluid from lungs), and spironolactone. Some common antiarrhythmics are Sotalol (antiarrhythmic for ventricular arrhythmias), mexiletine (antiarrhythmic for ventricular arrhythmia), and diltiazem (antiarrhythmic for atrial fibrillation). If you need tips on drug pricing, join the DHDR Facebook group.
If DCM is not detected until the Doberman is already in Heart Failure, treatment is less impactful and typically focused on clearing fluid from the lungs and delaying total failure.
Supplements are also often advised for Dobermans in various stages of DCM. Common supplements include taurine & carnitine and Fish Oil, or Grizzly Pollock Oil. Vetriscience Cardio Strength is also recommended by some veterinarians. Consult your Veterinary Cardiologist prior to administering any medications or supplements.
Questions? Reach out to Contact@azdoberescue.org and we are happy to provide answers or resources. Spread the word – you can often add years to your Doberman’s life when empowered with this information!
DCM Resource Kit
There are a lot of great DCM resources out there!
- Doberman Diversity Project: Participate in this low-cost program to get valuable genetic information about your Doberman’s health, which will also feed important DCM research.
- DHDR Discount Holter Monitoring Program: Don’t forget to check out this awesome program.
- DVDPC Holter Monitoring Program: Reach out to Kim Clark at the Desert Valley Doberman Pinscher Club for more information on their Holter Monitoring program.
- Follow @DCM_Awareness on Instagram for great info and stories.
- Check out the #DCMSucks tag on Facebook and Instagram to see an aggregation of others’ experiences and updates.
If you have questions, need financial support, are looking for a cardiologist or need further resources please reach out to Contact@azdoberescue.org and we can do our best to get you what you need.
Read the DCM stories of other Doberman owners:
Ronyn has had annual proBNP blood tests since he was young. At age 8, his blood test came back elevated, so we scheduled an echocardiogram. He was diagnosed with a valve issue and Occult DCM. Dr. Paige put him on Vetmedin and some heart supplements. He has been perfectly healthy and these medications have given him many more years. He is almost 12 years old and hikes regularly! I am so glad we caught this early.
Bishop was adopted at age 6 from a local shelter with NO medical or diet history. Diagnosed with Copper Storage Disease, we focused and fought to manage this complicated liver issue. A few years later he started to show some heat and exercise intolerance and during a normal follow up, I decided to add the proBNP blood test. His pro BNP came back at 5 times the high normal.
His echo and Holter confirmed advanced DCM. He was immediately put on Vetmedin and Taurine, Carnitine supplements but his heart was already at an advanced stage demonstrating advanced weakness of the muscle wall of the heart, little could be done. We were given a grim outlook of 6-12 months left with our boy. After a year managing both diseases, his heart weakness was causing fluid to accumulate, and we were told Cardiac Failure was imminent. He was starting to struggle to breathe so at 370 days post diagnoses we opted to humanely euthanize him to save him further discomfort or the medical emergency of complete heart failure.
We were so focused on his liver issues that we overlooked cardiac screenings that may have given us additional longevity with him with early intervention. We missed the forest through the trees. Since this time, Cardiac wellness is part of our annual health checks for each of our Dobermans starting at an early age.
Duke was adopted from DHDR in 2015 with unknown history and age. The vet guessed him to be around 6 years old. We were new to the Doberman breed and did not have knowledge of DCM. A year after we adopted Duke, we had heard about the genetic test to see if Duke was a carrier. He was found to be a carrier of the DCM2 genetic marker. This marker’s characteristics are ventricular tachyarrhythmias and sudden cardiac death. We were not sure what to do with this information so we continued to live life as normal but cognizant.
It wasn’t until 2017 that we took Duke into the Emergency Clinic for an unrelated ailment. The Veterinarian reported hearing a grade 3/5 heart murmur and suggested we schedule an appointment with a cardiologist. We were able to secure an appointment with a cardiologist but it wasn’t until the following month. While we waited for this appointment we reached out to DHDR to utilize their holter monitor program. Duke’s holter came back irregular and the cardiologist confirmed the DCM diagnosis with an echocardiogram. Duke was started on Pimobendan and VetriScience Cardio Strength. The cardiologist gave us 12-18 months. Duke made it to just under a year before having progressive symptoms (synope) that required another holter monitor.That holter showed worsening arrhythmias. The cardiologist then placed Duke on exercise restriction and started him on Sotalol. In all, we were able to have an additional 14 months with Duke after his diagnosis before he passed during a syncopal episode.
If you have a strong understanding of DCM, and are looking for research updates and advanced information, check out:
- NC State University Genetics Department
- MORE COMING SOON!