Rachel Marsden

Our vet Rachel Marsden MA VetMB CertVC MRCVS

We have been working with Boehringer and running FREE cardiomyopathy blood tests for at risk dogs throughout the month of June.

Any dogs with abnormal results have then been contacted by our Vet Rachel Marsden and recommended to have a heart scan. Rachel has been very busy in June performing these heart scans.


Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is the second most common type of heart disease in dogs, typically affecting medium-large breeds such as Dobermans, Great Danes, Cocker and Springer Spaniels, Boxers, Irish Setters, German Shepherds, St Bernards, Irish Wolfhounds, Labradors and Golden Retrievers.

In DCM, the heart muscle gradually becomes weakened and floppy. The heart enlarges and stretches and becomes very inefficient at pumping blood around the body. Dogs with DCM can often live with the problem for months or years with no obvious signs of ill health, as the body makes adjustments to cope with the changes.

However, over time, weak heart muscles cause the heart’s function to deteriorate. This stage, known as congestive heart failure, is when the heart is no longer able to pump sufficient blood around the body. The dog becomes unwell and their quality of life is affected.

It is really important to identify when the heart begins to fail, as intervening as quickly as possible helps to support the heart and improve the dog’s quality and length of life.

There are two phases to DCM; firstly a long “silent” phase where the heart has the disease and is slowly deteriorating, but where there are no outward signs of a problem.

The second phase is a shorter “overt” phase where the heart can no longer cope and starts to fail.

old retrieverThe shorter phase is easier to identify as dogs show some or all of the following signs:
• Coughing
• Weakness
• Breathlessness
• Breathing harder and faster
• Weight loss
• Collapse
• Poor appetite

If you notice any of these signs in your dog then you should take them to see us. We will examine your dog and perform some additional tests. These tests may include blood tests, an x-ray or ultrasound of their heart or an electrocardiogram (ECG).

If we diagnose heart failure they will recommend that your dog starts treatment.
It is more difficult to identify dogs in the longer “silent” phase of the disease as they show no outward signs at this stage of the disease.

Dogs in the silent phase of DCM appear completely happy and healthy and will walk in and out of a veterinary practice for their routine vaccinations, without anyone knowing that their heart is diseased. Vets can only diagnose dogs in this phase if they perform specific screening tests to assess the heart.

There are a number of possible tests that we can perform to find out whether a dog’s heart has a problem.

A simplified screening programme has been put together for the dogs that are more at risk of having DCM.

german shepherdThese dogs are those that are over 3 years old and from the following breeds:
• Doberman Pinscher
• Great Dane
• Irish Wolfhound
• Boxer
• Newfoundland
• German Shepherd Dog
• St Bernard

The screening programme involves performing a simple blood test to check the levels of a substance called pro-BNP.

Pro-BNP is a substance that is released into the blood stream when the heart muscle stretches excessively, such as in dogs with DCM. High levels of this substance in the blood are a good indicator that a dog is likely to have DCM.

If a dog has a high pro-BNP level then the final step is an ultrasound examination of the heart. This is a painless procedure where an ultrasound machine is used to look at the heart and see how well it is functioning.

An ultrasound examination will show whether the heart is stretching and enlarging, confirming the diagnosis of silent DCM.


If your dog is diagnosed as having DCM, there is a lot you can do to help. Some dogs will benefit from a medication in the silent phase to prolong the time before their heart begins to fail. We will discuss with you whether this is an option for your dog.

If your dog is in the silent phase of the disease it is very important that they are closely monitored both at home, by you, and also regularly at us.

This is to ensure that when their heart starts to deteriorate it is detected and treated as early as possible.

Information thanks to Boehringer Ingelheim