Is diet important for my dog’s heart health?
Heart diseases, such as congestive heart failure, are commonly seen in dogs. Around 10% of dogs that are seen in a veterinary clinic have some form of heart problem. Usually seen in older dogs, heart disease can present with a wide range of symptoms depending on the severity of the condition. Unfortunately, most cardiovascular diseases in dogs are irreversible and will require lifelong management to control symptoms and prevent any complications. Nutrition plays an important role in managing heart disease in canine patients. Certain components in a regular dog diet can make the condition worse, hence the need for a specialized diet that helps manage symptoms and delay the progression of the disease. Keep reading to learn more!
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My dog has heart disease. Why is his diet important?
As mentioned, dogs diagnosed with cardiac disease will require a special diet suited for the condition. Regular diet, even those formulated to cater to a healthy dog’s specific nutritional requirements, will still have nutrient contents that can worsen the heart problem, especially if taken for a prolonged period.
While it is true that canine patients diagnosed with cardiac disease will need a specialized diet, a one-diet-fits-all approach does not usually work for all heart diseases. The underlying heart condition and patient characteristics such as breed, age, and activity levels, need to be considered in choosing an appropriate special diet for the pet.
Sodium and Chloride (Salt)
The main nutritional concern when it comes to feeding dogs with cardiac disease is the salt content of the diet. Canine patients diagnosed with heart disease will have secondary complications such as impaired kidney function, and their ability to process and metabolize sodium and chloride, the main components of salt, will be compromised.
If salt intake is not reduced in canine patients with cardiovascular disease, the excess salt will worsen hypertension (high blood pressure) and exacerbate the animal’s heart problem. Hypertension is a common clinical sign associated with heart problems in dogs, and a progressive increase in the patient’s blood pressure can cascade into more severe signs such as syncope (fainting), glaucoma, further kidney impairment, breathing difficulties, and exercise intolerance.
In addition to salt, several other nutritional components in the diet need to be altered for dogs with heart disease to help control clinical signs and reduce the risks of complications.
Congestive heart failure, a common cardiac disease reported in many dogs with heart problems, is usually managed with the long-term use of diuretics such as Furosemide and Spironolactone. These diuretics help treat the build-up of fluids in the lungs and prevents lung congestion, a common complication in congestive heart failure cases.
The drawback of long-term use of diuretics is it causes excessive elimination of potassium through the urine. A common complication seen in dogs that are put on long-term furosemide treatment is hypokalemia, a condition where the blood potassium level is lower than what is needed. This can result in severe clinical signs such as tremors, spasms, and seizures.
Dogs with cardiac disease that are currently taking diuretics as part of their treatment will need to have regular electrolyte monitoring, and in some cases, potassium supplementation, to make sure that the potassium level in their blood does not fall below the normal range.
Phosphorus is another electrolyte in the dog’s blood that can cause severe neurological symptoms if it falls above or below the normal range. Blood phosphorus level is of special concern in dogs with cardiac disease that have secondary renal (kidney) impairment. Since phosphorus is primarily eliminated through the urine, a compromised kidney function can lead to the build-up of phosphorus in the blood leading to hyperphosphatemia.
Adding a phosphate binder to the dog’s diet will control further phosphorus absorption and help reduce high phosphorus levels in the blood.
What is the ideal diet for a dog with heart disease?
As mentioned above, there is no single recipe to address and manage all cardiac disease cases in dogs. Formulating a proper diet suited for the condition will depend highly on the type of cardiac disease the dog has, its age, breed, and the level of activity it does at home. A proper diagnosis is important in coming up with a suitable diet for the condition.
Your vet will run tests to identify the specific type of heart disease your dog has and will come up with an appropriate treatment protocol based on the specific diagnosis. A recommendation on what diet to give and supplements to put the dog on will also depend on what specific heart condition the dog is suffering from.
Commercially available veterinary diets from several companies are formulated to meet the nutritional requirements of dogs with heart conditions without compromising or risking their heart function. Most of these diets have reduced salt content and are formulated with nutrients such as EPA and DHA that helps support cardiovascular health.
The amount of commercially available cardiac diet to be given is highly dependent on the weight, age, body condition score, and the dog food brand. Following the manufacturer’s recommendation is often enough to meet the daily caloric requirement of canine patients suffering from heart disease.
In most cases, a cardiac diet alone is not enough to control the symptoms and manage the progression of heart disease in dogs. Supplements like co-enzyme q10 and taurine are often added to the diet to further support cardiac health and control the disease.
Home-cooked meals are also a viable option in the dietary management of heart disease in dogs. There are recipes available that can meet daily caloric requirements and control the intake of excessive nutrients that can be harmful to the animal’s heart function. However, it’s important to discuss with your vet or a veterinary nutritionist about an appropriate home-cooked recipe in managing your dog’s cardiovascular disease. Your vet will let you know if a certain diet is sufficient to provide adequate nutrition while reducing the risks of complications associated with heart disease.
Regular visits with your vet for thorough exams and monitoring of blood values are essential in coming up with the best nutritional plan to manage your dog’s heart disease.
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