Heart Healthy Food for Cats
We all want the best for our feline companions, and that means giving them all they need to live a long and healthy life. To that end, it’s crucial to feed them a healthy diet that will help guard against heart disease and other conditions.
All cats are at potential risk for heart disease, and some serious heart disorders can remain undiagnosed until they are too advanced to treat. For this reason, it’s important to take your cat to a veterinarian for an annual checkup and to feed him a heart-healthy food starting early in life.
Heart Conditions in Cats
There are many types of heart conditions in cats, ranging from innocent murmurs to congenital defects and acquired cardiomyopathy, which is by far the most common of adult feline heart disorders. In fact, cardiomyopathy accounts for nearly two-thirds of diagnosed heart conditions in cats, according to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
While there might not be much help for many types of congenital heart conditions, which are those present at birth, acquired disorders, including hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, restrictive cardiomyopathy, and dilated cardiomyopathy, are at least somewhat preventable with a healthy diet and adequate exercise. Most cases involve some level of hereditary predisposition and are considered primary diseases of the heart.
Secondary heart diseases, such as high blood pressure and heart damage caused by heartworms, are considerably more responsive to dietary and lifestyle changes. By starting your cat on a heart healthy diet early, you can potentially prevent the development of secondary heart diseases altogether.
Advancing age, being overweight and inactive, and breed type all play a role in the development of feline heart conditions.
How to Tell if Your Cat has Heart Disease
It is not always possible to know if your feline friend is suffering from the early stages of heart disease, which is why regular veterinary care is so important. A stethoscope examination can detect fluid in the lungs and heart murmurs, x-rays show heart enlargement, blood and urine tests can reveal the presence of heartworms, and other tests can check for irregular rhythms or pulse abnormalities.
More advanced disease usually causes symptoms that may include a low-pitched or gagging cough, noticeable changes in weight, breathing difficulties, reduced ability to play or exercise, and abdominal swelling.
The Role of Nutrition in Heart Health
While there’s no way to fully reverse heart disease once it takes hold, it is possible to minimize some symptoms and improve quality of life for affected cats. Your cat’s food plays an important role in her recovery and overall well-being.
Because heart disease usually results in heart enlargement and a loss of efficiency, the heart begins to hold excess fluid. It is this excess fluid that leads to many symptoms of heart disease. Because of this, it’s wise to feed your cat a low-sodium food that will reduce fluid build-up and strain on the heart.
Choosing a Heart Healthy Food for Your Cat
Whether your cat is experiencing symptoms of heart disease yet or not, you want to choose a quality cat food that is meat-based and low in salt and high in nutrients. High quality commercial cat foods should meet these requirements. Look for a brand that contains 40% or more meat protein and is palatable to ensure your cat eats regularly.
Once symptoms occur, your veterinarian may recommend a specific food for your cat’s type of heart condition or symptoms. Different prescription formulas may be necessary to combat muscle wasting or other symptoms, and sodium intake may need to be reduced to nearly nothing. Additionally, supplementation with carnitine or taurine may be recommended, as these nutrients support metabolism and heart muscle energy production.
Cats taking diuretics for excess fluid benefit from supplementation with certain electrolytes, and a food with supplemental magnesium or B vitamins may also be beneficial. Other dietary supplements that may offer benefits include omega 3 fatty acids, Co-enzyme Q10, and vitamin E.
You’ll want to choose canned food over dry food if possible. Lisa A. Pierson, DVM states that “cats have a better chance at optimal health if they are fed canned food (or a balanced homemade diet) instead of dry kibble.” This is because the water content of dry food is too low, the carb content is too high, and the type of protein in dry food tends to be too high in plant-based proteins and too low in animal-based proteins. These factors make dry food unsuitable for most cats with heart disease.
Don’t Forget to Consult Your Vet
Before making any changes to your cat’s diet, consult your veterinarian. This is always true, but it is even more important if your cat is already suffering from some degree of heart disease.