By: Adrienne A. Kruzer, RVT | Aug 15, 2019
Just like people, dogs can unfortunately develop heart disease. There are a few different kinds of heart disease that may affect dogs but dilated cardiomyopathy and mitral valve disease are the most common types of cardiac issues in canines, aside from heartworm disease. These and other heart issues are typically diagnosed by a veterinarian after radiographs, electrocardiograms, and an echocardiogram are obtained. There is also a blood test that may be performed to assess the levels of cardiac biomarkers that can increase in a dog with heart disease. These technologies enable your veterinarian to assess the size and performance of the heart and therefore address any problems that it may be having.
With dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), the heart chambers are enlarged which makes it difficult for blood and oxygen to pump throughout the body normally. With mitral valve disease, the one way valve that prevents blood from flowing backwards through the heart starts leaking so blood is not properly pumped throughout the body. Both of these conditions will require conventional pharmaceutical therapies but alternative treatment modalities may also be beneficial to your dog’s heart. When used in conjunction with prescription medications to help support heart function and potentially delay heart failure, these alternative treatments options may further improve your dog’s quality of life. Consider talking to your vet about trying some of these natural remedies for heart disease in dogs.
Many people are familiar with the health benefits of fish oil for their own hearts but they may not realize that it can also help support their dog’s heart. Specifically, it is the Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil that is beneficial to many different bodily systems including the heart. It helps decrease inflammation, supports cartilage, and even helps with irregular rhythms in the heart. Arrhythmias are abnormal rhythms or heartbeats and fish oil can help facilitate a normal “lub-dub” heart rhythm. This means if your dog has an abnormal heartbeat, high-quality fish oil may be a good addition to its daily food.
Not all oils are the same, so when choosing an Omega-3 fatty acid, make sure it meets a few requirements. Omega-3 fatty acids should be sourced from fish and be purified to limit your dog’s intake of contaminants such as heavy metals. They should also be manufactured by a company that utilizes current Good Documentation Practice (cGMP) and ensures label claims are met so you will know that what they say is in the bottle is actually what you are getting. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate veterinary supplements so it is important to do your homework when choosing a product.
Derived from an amino acid and naturally found in animal muscle, L-carnitine is normally consumed from any diet containing meat. L-carnitine is important to muscle health, especially muscles that are overworked. Since the heart is a muscle, it too can benefit from L-carnitine supplementation if it is overworked. Hearts inflicted with the disease are usually working harder to move blood through the body efficiently and therefore are using up the energy stored within its cells more rapidly than a healthy heart would. L-carnitine is one ingredient that helps create cellular energy that muscles need to recover. Supplementing it above and beyond what a formulated diet offers may be of benefit to a dog with heart disease.
Now known to be a vital amino acid in dogs as well as cats, L-taurine was added to pet foods to help support heart, eye, and brain health. While it is not fully understood exactly how L-taurine is beneficial, researchers know it is necessary for normal heart function. Dogs that have taurine deficiencies, especially certain breeds of dogs like golden retrievers and cocker spaniels, may develop heart issues like dilated cardiomyopathy. Research is ongoing but for the dogs that do have heart issues alongside taurine deficiencies, supplementation with taurine seems to completely reverse the problem in many of them.
Some dogs with cardiac issues may be deficient in B vitamins. B vitamins are used in many different functions within the body and in people, B6, B9, and B12 may help improve the outcome of patients with heart disease. While studies have not been performed on dogs, some study results of humans taking B vitamins to improve their heart health were underwhelming but the importance of B vitamins within the body is irrefutable. It is also important to remember that since B vitamins are water-soluble, the body will naturally excrete what it cannot utilize so it is usually thought that they are unlikely to cause harm, either.
There are many different types of antioxidants that may benefit dogs. Cell damage may occur due to oxidative stress from free radicals but antioxidants can help prevent this damage to cardiac cells as well as other cells within the body. Antioxidants such as CoQ10 and vitamin E neutralize free radicals which would otherwise cause damage to cells, are often recommended to help support heart health.
If your dog has been diagnosed with heart disease, activity restriction may be recommended by your veterinarian. When a dog is very active it puts more strain on its heart which in return makes the cardiac muscle have to work harder. If a heart is already struggling to do its job properly, you won’t want to stress it any more than is necessary. Activity restriction is therefore often a part of managing heart disease in dogs.
It’s important to have a discussion with your veterinarian before starting any supplements or multi-modal treatment plan to manage your dog’s heart disease. Not every dog will benefit from every alternative treatment available and traditional pharmaceuticals are often still necessary, but these treatment options can be wonderful adjunct therapies to commonly recommended courses of heart disease management.