A recent scientific statement by the American Heart Association revealed what dog owners have long suspected: having a dog may protect you from heart disease. However, as many pet parent know, dogs themselves can suffer from a variety of heart diseases. So what can you do to to help your pup if he has an existing heart disease? Once your pup is properly diagnosed, we recommend starting with a heart-healthy diet. Feeding your dog high-quality, nutritious food is a critical component of maintaining overall health and addressing some of the underlying causes of heart disease.
What is canine heart disease?
As with humans, there are many different types of canine hearth disease, including the following:
- Degenerative Valvular Disease, also referred to as congestive heart failure: This is the most common form of canine heart disease and can affect either the mitral or the tricuspid heart valve. Although congestive heart failure is incurable, you may be able to make your canine fur baby more comfortable and help manage his disease to enable him to live as full a life as possible for as long as possible.
- Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM): Commonly caused by a genetic mutation in certain breeds, this heart disease occurs when the heart muscle is unable to contract sufficiently to effectively pump the blood. Other causes can include dietary issues and infectious diseases. Unlike congestive heart failure, if caught early enough, it may be possible to slow and minimize the adverse effects of canine DCM.
What are the symptoms of canine heart disease?
Depending on the exact hearth disease your pup is diagnosed with, the symptoms may include one or more of the following:
- Loss of appetite
- Pacing and difficulty getting comfortable
- Fainting due to poor blood flow
- Change in tongue or gum color due to poor blood – and therefore oxygen – flow.
Diagnosing canine heart disease
Your vet will probably do one or more of the following to determine whether and what type of heart disease your pup is suffering from:
- Lab work, including blood and urine tests
- Diagnostic tests, including chest x-rays, ultrasound and/or EKG
- Heartworm test to see if that may be causing the issue
- Even a Holter Monitor, similar to that used on humans, to measure your dog’s cardiac activity over a period of one or more days.
Traditional Treatment Options
If your dog is diagnosed with heart disease, depending on whether is has progressed to congestive heart failure, your vet may recommend any one of the following treatment options:
- Medications to assist the heart function or drain fluid build-up. Low-salt foods can also help reduce fluid retention and should be part of a heart-healthy diet.
- Surgery to correct damaged valves
- Pacemaker to regulate the heart beat: My personal experience with my Rila, who suffered from heart arrhythmia and eventually congestive heart failure, was that because her heart rate was SO very slow (a lifelong condition) and because she was an older dog when her heart started failing, the vet decided that anesthesia was not a viable option. Therefore a pacemaker was not an option. The upside is that Rila lived to be almost 18 years old, heart disease and all!
Ways to Renew Your Dog’s Interest in Food
If your pup is no longer doing the happy dance at the mere hint of food and has started to lose weight and energy, it may be time to do the previously unthinkable and try to entice him to eat MORE by doing the following:
- Provide more frequent, smaller meals.
- Add some moisture to the food and warm it a bit.
- Gradually introduce a new type of food (adding wet to dry, dry to wet).
- Add some flavor with cooked meat or fish (no salt or seasoning).
- For dogs with a sweet tooth you can add yogurt, a bit of honey, or applesauce.
Heart-Healthy Dog Food: Diet Tips
First and foremost, always consult with your veterinarian about your dog’s specific needs. Age, weight, breed, and severity of the heart disease all factor into dietary restrictions and the types of nutritional deficiencies which may be contributing to the heart disease.
According to Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, maintaining an optimal body weight is vital for managing heart disease in both dogs and cats. As Dr. Halle also told Onpets, “Maintaining a healthy weight factors in to so many facets of your dog’s life. One of the big risk factors of being overweight is an increased tendency to develop arthritis earlier and worse than average. It also predisposes your fur kid to diabetes and other diseases.” Also note that while we often associate obesity with heart disease—in humans and animals—being underweight is just as dangerous.
Here are some heart-healthy dietary guidelines for your dog:
- Do NOT feed your dog cat food.
- Maintain a low-sodium diet.
- Provide heart-healthy treats and avoid things like pizza, fatty foods, sandwich meats, and packaged snack foods like potato chips and salty popcorn. The Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine provides a comprehensive list of heart-healthy treats AND foods to avoid.
- If you go with commercial food, look for low or no-carb foods that are meat-based. There are plenty of high quality, all-natural commercial dog foods on the market but always read the label to make sure the food meets your pet’s nutritional requirements. Some veterinarians recommend a meat-based diet with at least 25-30% protein (DM basis). One note of caution: If your dog suffers from certain conditions, including gastroenteritis, a high protein diet may NOT be optimal.
- If your pup has no digestive issues, consider a raw diet.
- Home cooked: There’s no better way to ensure that your dog’s food is truly healthy, low-carb and heart-healthy. Even if you can’t cook for your dog every day, a home-cooked meal or snack is an extra special treat. Look here for some great recipes ror organic treats, check out Dr. Halle’s healthy recipes for Frozen Pupsicles and Liver-Lickin’-Luxuries, try a book with nutritious recipes for your animal companions like Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs & Cats (by Beth Taylor) or Dinner PAWsible (by Cathy Alinovi DVM & Susan Thixton).
These supplements all support heart health. Check with your veterinarian to determine what your dog’s specific needs are before adding any of these to his diet:
- Omega 3 fatty acids
- Taurine and L-Carnitine
- B vitamins
Take your canine fur baby in for regular check-ups to catch heart disease early and feed him a heart-healthy diet high in protein, low in salt and low in junk.
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