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Cardiomyopathy | German Shepherd

Also known as “heart failure,” cardiomyopathy is particularly common in large breeds of dogs such as the German Shepherd dog. Cardiomyopathy is commonly found in two forms. In hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the German Shepherd dog's heart's chamber walls thicken, which means that blood is pumped less efficiently. This is more rare in dogs, however, than the second form of the disease, dilated cardiomyopathy, when the muscles are stretched thinner due to an increase in heart size. This eventually leads to congestive heart failure in German Shepherd dogs. The condition is more likely to occur when the dog is over five years of age. This is a very common and unfortunate disease within the Doberman Pinscher, another breed of German descent.

German Shepherd dogs exhibiting signs of congestive heart failure begin to lose their characteristic energy, becoming tired easily and lethargic. They may even lose their appetites. Dogs also have difficulty breathing, even coughing and panting while not performing strenuous physical activity. The membranes of the mouth become gray, rather than their customary pink as is the case in healthy dogs, and the stomachs of the dogs enlarge with the accumulation of liver in the abdominal area. The beating of the heart may become visible in the jugular veins, and the sounds of heartbeat are abnormal.

If untreated, a German Shepherd dog with cardiomyopathy will die within some months. However, some treatments are available. Digitalis, which increases the calcium percentage in heart muscles, might be helpful. Digoxin, Cardoxin, and Lanoxin are examples of these drugs. Diuretics like Lasix/Furosemide is another drug that can be given. An additional option is the ACE inhibitor, which lowers the level of certain chemicals that tighten blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more efficiently through your German Shepherd dog's system. Also consider giving your dog mexiletine/Mexitil or procainamide/Procan SR – which treat heartbeat abnormalities. Also, adding the amino acid L-Carnitine may help. As your veterinarian – in most cases a drug “cocktail” will be necessary. Unfortunately, even with medication, the prognosis is not ideal as most dogs may pass within the year. Larger breeds, such as German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers, may live only a few weeks, although there have been cases of dogs with cardiomyopathy living as long as two years.

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