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Golden Retriever Develops Sudden Heart Condition

By Christy True
published: December 20, 2023 - updated: December 21, 2023 • 3 min. read
Stevie the Golden

Diagnosis: Dilated cardiomyopathy or DCM
Cost: 
$5,355 Healthy Paws reimbursed: $3,327
Coverage options:  80 percent reimbursement | $500 deductible

Stevie Nicks, a five-year-old Golden Retriever, grew up just a few blocks from Ocean Beach in San Francisco, where she has spent much of her life frolicking on the sand and swimming in the ocean. There’s no place she would rather be than on a beach retrieving a ball or stick, especially from the water, said her pet parent, Chris.

Like most Goldens, she also loves people and other dogs.

Stevie the Golden getting a hug
Stevie, as pictured on the Healthy Paws past website.

“Sweet and gentle in nature, Stevie gets approached by all sorts – the child who’s normally scared of dogs, the teenager who asks if they can pet the cute dog, fellow dog owners…She seems to turn almost every 2- or 4-legged encounter into a new friendship,” he said.

Coincidentally, Stevie was featured in a photo shoot for Healthy Paws and appeared on the website’s home page for a couple of years.

Stevie collapses suddenly

One evening in October, Stevie collapsed while chasing a ball on the beach. The next day, they took her to the vet, and the doctor detected a heart murmur, which had not been present a few months before. This led to numerous tests, which showed clear signs of a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy or DCM.

Also known as an enlarged heart, DCM is a serious, generally progressive heart condition, which often has few or no symptoms until suddenly appearing as a fainting episode or, if it progresses to congestive heart failure, even sudden death.

The heart pumps out oxygenated blood that every organ needs. In dogs with DCM, their ventricles start to wear down and become thin and weak, making pumping that enriched blood more difficult.

After the diagnosis, Chris and Anna realized in hindsight that Stevie’s occasional coughing spells were also a symptom of DCM – the swelling of the heart muscles push on the throat, causing discomfort.

The sudden onset of the condition and the high diagnosis and treatment costs caught Chris and Anna by surprise.   

Stevie the Golden on the beach.

“As her parents, this whole experience was gut-wrenching. One day we had a healthy, happy dog. A few days later, we didn’t know if she’d see middle age. In addition to this stress, the multiple procedures, tests, and medications required to properly diagnose and stabilize Stevie’s condition came out to just under $6,000 in six weeks,” Chris said.

There is no cure for DCM, but it can be managed with medications that help decrease the heart’s workload or improve the efficiency of the heart’s work, and remove any fluid from the lungs to make breathing easier. These include ACE inhibitors, which expand the veins leaving the heart; diuretics, which help remove fluid from the lungs; and inotropic drugs, which change the force of the heart’s contractions.

Besides medication, dogs with DCM benefit from a low-salt diet and supplements such as taurine, coenzyme Q10, or carnitine supplements.

Chris said taurine supplements appear to be especially effective for goldens. Several studies have shown that some dogs develop DCM due to a nutritional deficiency of the amino acid, he said. Stevie now takes a daily taurine supplement.

Stevie the Golden
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How is Stevie doing now

With careful adjustments to Stevie’s medications and diet, she is doing much better – back to rolling in the sand and swimming (with moderation) in the ocean. Management of DCM is lifelong in dogs, with a life expectancy of six months to two years after diagnosis. When caught early, dogs have a better prognosis and can live comfortable lives for years.

The experience has made Chris and Anna appreciate their beloved pooch even more.

“While it remains to be seen how Stevie will do over the long term, this whole experience has made us really appreciate each day we get to spend with her, and how much love and joy she brings to our lives,” he said.

How pet insurance helped

Based on a friend’s recommendation, Chris and Anna purchased a Healthy Paws policy when Stevie was just a year old. Chris said he’d hoped to be that policyholder who’d purchased nothing more than peace of mind (because their dog never got sick), but once they needed it for a chronic and expensive health condition, they were happy they had it.

“We were beyond grateful to be able to focus our emotional energies exclusively on her well-being – without having to worry about how to pay for her care. We have Healthy Paws insurance to thank for that,” Chris said. “The process of submitting a Healthy Paws claim online was incredibly easy and once I’d set up direct deposit, we were approved and reimbursed for every claim — typically within 48 hours. Our experience with Healthy Paws has been nothing short of wonderful and has made this incredibly difficult time much easier than it could have been.”

The claim scenarios described here are intended to show the types of situations that may result in claims. These scenarios should not be compared to any other claim. Whether or to what extent a particular loss is covered depends on the facts and circumstances of the loss, the terms and conditions of the policy as issued, and applicable law.

Insured persons providing testimonials in this report have not received compensation for their statements.

Christy True and Tomas
By Christy True

Christy has been writing about pets for Healthy Paws for 28 dog years. She previously worked in journalism, hence her penchant for writing about offbeat animal studies and the latest viral pet trends. She has been owned by several dogs and volunteers with a local dog rescue. Outside of work, she can usually be found sliding down a mountain near her home in Bend, Ore.

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