I recently purchased a Doberman pinscher from a breeder. Given the high incidence of heart disease in this breed, is there any screening test that can be performed?
Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a common genetic heart disease in Doberman pinschers. It is a condition in which the heart becomes weakened and enlarged, and cannot pump blood effectively. The two clinical manifestations of DCM in Doberman pinschers are gradual heart failure and abnormal rhythms (arrhythmias).
What most people do not know is that there is a long subclinical phase in which the dogs with DCM have no clinical symptoms; wherein, the minor arrhythmias and early heart failure begin and slowly progress.
During this time, the arrhythmias can lead to sudden death. In fact, at least 30-50 percent of Doberman pinschers with DCM die suddenly prior to developing clinical symptoms of heart failure. Unfortunately, this is often the first and only clinical sign of DCM.
The earliest markers for DCM are arrhythmias. Unfortunately, the arrhythmias are often infrequent and cannot be detected on physical examination or during an electrocardiogram (ECG). Therefore, 24-hour continuous ambulatory electrocardiograms (i.e. Holter recordings) are required to detect the arrhythmias.
Because of the high incidence of DCM in this breed, annual screening is cost-effective. Echocardiograms and Holter recordings beginning at approximately three years of age are recommended.
If early DCM is detected, then the dog can be closely monitored and treatment initiated when the time is appropriate.
This column is provided by the faculty of the OSU Boren Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.