When it comes to your dog's heart, you do everything you can to make sure it's healthy, but some things, like enlarged hearts, are impossible to prevent. An enlarged heart is a condition where your pup's heart muscle becomes thinner than normal. Because of this, they'll likely have valve leakage, heart arrhythmia, and their heart simply won't pump as much, or as well, as it needs to.
Your pup's heart will become enlarged, weak, and won't be able to contract as it needs to. While you can take steps to always monitor your pup's health, sometimes enlarged hearts happen, but does that mean your pup won't make it? Can dogs live with enlarged hearts?
There's good news and bad news for this condition. On the negative side, there's no cure for an enlarged heart - but luckily, with the right treatment, careful diet and exercise, and the right regimen of medicine, your pup can still live a long and happy life.
Read on to learn about the signs your dog might be showing you to signify his condition, ways to combat his enlarged heart, and a touch of science and history about enlarged hearts in canines to give you a better idea of what you'll be dealing with.
Signs Your Dog May Have an Enlarged Heart
An enlarged canine heart condition is referred to by dog-tors as dilated cardiomyopathy, which is also called DCM. With this condition, the heart muscle becomes weaker, thinner, and can't function like a normal heart, allowing the muscle to swell and struggle to contract and pump blood like it normally would.
This condition is fairly common in older dogs, and especially in large dog breeds. Deerhounds, Great Danes, Dobermans, Saint Bernards, and Shepherds are a few of the breeds who are best known for this disease. With this condition, a pup's heart becomes enlarged and weak, and the chambers of his heart are put under great stress and strain, making it difficult for your pup to function.
This will typically manifest in several signs you should look out for. While your dog can't verbally tell you what's wrong, odds are, he's trying to tell you in some other way. If your dog is having a hard time exercising and is fatigued far easier than normal, this could reflect his heart's difficulty to keep up. If he's reluctant to partake in activity, has to cough a lot, can't stop panting, breathes heavy all the time, is losing a lot of weight, and appears much weaker than usual, these are all signs he may be suffering from an enlarged heart.
The Causes of Canine Enlarged Hearts
Historically, enlarged hearts in pups typically go hand-in-hand with conditions like congenital heart diseases, congestive heart failure, and heart disease. Knowing the possible causes of these diseases and this condition can help you keep an eye on your pup's heart health.
Some of the causes of an enlarged heart include things that come with time, like old age and injury. Many middle-aged dogs, especially if they're a larger breed, develop this over time.
Diet and exercise can play a role in a dog's heart health, too. Sometimes though, injury or infection can exacerbate an issue and cause heart problems. Often though, your dog might have just been born with a heart defect that you were unable to detect. Additionally, deficiencies in amino acids, toxicity, infection, and low thyroid can contribute as well.
The Science Behind Enlarged Hearts
Often, understanding how and why a disease or condition occurs can help lend itself to the treatment of the condition. That being said, it's important to understand the science behind a canine's enlarged heart. This condition is called Dilated Cardiomyopathy and occurs for a variety of reasons we mentioned above (genetic, diet, exercise, deficiencies, toxicity, etc).
When a dog has DCM, the heart muscle expands and becomes enlarged, and at its worst, weak and unable to function. The loss of the ability to contract is the main component of the condition, affecting both sides of the heart. Because of this, the chambers of the heart, the atria and the ventricles, are put under great strain due to the enlargement and impairment of the over-sized heart muscle.
How to Train and Treat Your Dog to Deal With His Enlarged Heart
Once your dog's condition is diagnosed, it's probable that a lot has to change. Your pup will be placed on a regimen of medicine to slow down the symptoms of his heart, likely will need a new diet, and will probably be frequenting the dog-tor's office far more than he normally would.
It's important to train your dog to adjust to these changes. Try rewarding your pup for acclimating to his new medicine and diet with tons of extra attention - perhaps you can find some diet-appropriate treats to reward him with as well.
Try to make the vet's office as non-threatening as possible. The reward system will work here too, that way, your dog will associate the vet's office with a positive experience.
Additionally, it's important to train your dog to take the pills he'll be on. Train him to play a thrown and catch game with his medicine, sneak them into his food, or even teach him how to take the pills gently out of your hand. Another way to give your dog medicine is to use liquid forms through a syringe. Find the solution that works best for your pup and make sure you reward him heavily after!
By a Great Dane lover Hanna Marcus
Published: 02/05/2018, edited: 04/06/2020