Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy: A Grieving Pet Parent’s Story

Staffordshire Bull Terrier dog resting on a bed.
Mary

Sadly, this topic is personal, heart-wrenching, and warrants pet parent awareness, so no other family has to endure the loss and grief my family experienced.

A girl named Mary

In 2011 my daughter and I rescued pit-bull sisters Mary and Mabel Mae from difficult street life. Each of us brought an adorable pittie into our loving homes. Mary went to live with my daughter and Mabel Mae with me. As a bonded pair, the sisters could retain their loving relationship and spend countless hours romping, roughhousing, noshing, and cuddling. They had each other, a hopeful future, and the ability to grow old together; at least that’s what we thought.

Fast forward nine years

In July 2020, my daughter phoned me with grave concern and a request for advice. Mary’s abdomen was swelling, and her breathing labored. As an oncology nurse, this readily caught my attention. I advised her to take her straight away to an emergency veterinary hospital.

After an overnight stay and a thorough workup by a nationally renowned cardiologist, we received the devastating diagnosis — Mary had dilated cardiomyopathy (DMC). DCM is a type of canine heart disease that affects the heart muscle. The hearts of dogs with DCM have a decreased ability to pump blood, which often results in congestive heart failure. Mary was in the throes of advanced disease and was given a 3–6 month prognosis. Mary required both an abdominocentesis and a thoracentesis to drain the massive amount of fluid in her lungs and abdomen. She would need a battery of lifelong cardiac medications and monitoring and cardiology follow-up. The veterinarian linked the cause for this scary diagnosis to taurine deficiency due to a boutique grain-free diet.

As fate awaits

Mary was placed on hospice care during the last month of her life. The medications stopped working. The rapid fluid accumulation, labored breathing, and severe pain began consuming her cachectic body over the preceding 24–36 hours of her life.

It was time

Our immediate family gathered in our enclosed backyard gazebo — now transformed into a relaxing and serene place of comfort with a cozy bed with warmed blankets, candles, tranquil music, and pictures of Mary and her mom. Her last meal was Dick’s cheeseburgers, a lot of them. Our exceptional and compassionate palliative care vet gently anesthetized Mary into a peaceful slumber before administering the lethal dose. She passed away surrounded by so much love. Mary crossed the Rainbow- Bridge and was met by her Aussie -Sheppard brother Jackson and her favorite kitty Maimu.

I share my story to raise awareness of the potential implications of grain-free diets. The concern is that grain-free diets may lead to taurine deficiency and that taurine deficiency has been linked to dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs. Many dogs will show no symptoms until the disease is well advanced.

“The FDA is investigating a potential dietary link between canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and dogs eating certain grain-free dog foods. The foods of concern are those containing legumes such as peas or lentils, other legume seeds, or potatoes listed as primary ingredients. The FDA began investigating this matter after it received reports of DCM in dogs that had been eating these diets for a period of months to years. DCM itself is not considered rare in dogs, but these reports are unusual because the disease occurred in breeds of dogs not typically prone to the disease.” Medicine, C. (n.d.). FDA investigates potential link between diet & heart disease in dogs.” Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/outbreaks-and-advisories/fda-investigation-potential-link-between-certain-diets-and-canine-dilated-cardiomyopathy

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