While there might be other reasons that Doberman pinschers suffer from congestive heart failure, the overwhelming reason is heredity. Cardiomyopathy, a term for diseases of the heart muscle, is the number one cause of death for Dobies. Your best bet is finding a puppy without this genetic issue.
Dobies with cardiomyopathy generally have either a reduced contraction of the heart muscle that leads to congestive heart failure, or an arrhythmia. The latter occurs when the heart's rhythm is unstable, whether too fast or slow. Sometimes, arrhythmias cause sudden death. At other times, they are early signals that dilated cardiomyopathy is on the way. Dilated cardiomyopathy means the heart is failing.
History in Doberman Pinschers
The University of Guelph reports that approximately half of all Dobermans are affected by heart disease. According to the United Doberman Club, dilated cardiomyopathy in the breed was first noted in the 1950s, when three of the breed's founding sires in the United States apparently died from heart attacks. Twenty years later, veterinarians observed high levels of congestive heart failure in Doberman males. More recent statistics show that about 75 percent of male Dobermans develop congestive heart failure compared to roughly 25 percent of females. Most dogs develop the disease after reaching the age of 7 1/2 years old.
If your normally active Dobie becomes lethargic, drops weight for no apparent reason, coughs a great deal or coughs up blood, suspect dilated cardiomyopathy. Take him to the vet for a definite diagnosis, as these symptoms can indicate other, less serious diseases. However, the first sign that your dog is suffering from heart disease may be sudden death.
Once a Dobie is diagnosed with congestive heart failure, he can live for approximately three months with treatment. Your vet prescribes diuretics to get rid of fluid, along with ACE inhibitors. While this isn't very promising, Doberman organizations, along with other breeds susceptible to dilated cardiomyopathy, raise funds for studies of this terrible affliction. Someday, there may be treatments that can extend your dog's life.
What to Do
Now that you know about the prevalence of heart disease in your favorite breed, what do you do? If you're looking for a Dobie puppy, ask the breeder about the prevalence of cardiomyopathy in the dog's ancestors. If you already have a Dobie, take him for an annual echocardiogram at your vet's office.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.