According to recent statistics, about 15% of the UK dog population is affected by heart disease. In reality, this figure could be much higher as dogs often display no symptoms until much further down the line. Nevertheless advances in veterinary science and a better understanding of which nutrients and vitamins can contribute to normal heart functioning give us a much more positive outlook when it comes to heart health issues.
What to look out for
Heart disease in dogs can be difficult to detect as it is often asymptomatic, meaning that the signs can frequently be silent. It can also come in different forms and be mild or, in some cases, more severe. Some of the more obvious signs that will begin appearing include persistent coughing, loss of appetite, lethargy and tiring easily; you may also spot an enlarged abdomen and fainting or dizzy spells. If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s best to take a trip to the vets for a thorough examination. The sooner signs are spotted, the better.
The two types of heart disease prevalent in dogs are congenital (from birth) and acquired (developed later in life); the former of these is rarer, with the latter accounting for 95% of all heart disease. Both of these forms can eventually lead to heart failure.
Congenital heart disorders include heart murmurs which some dogs can grow out of. However, the more common acquired diseases are developed over a dog’s lifetime, often in old age. Some of these acquired diseases such as Mitral Valve Disease affect the heart valve whilst others including Myocardial disease affect the heart muscle.
Why is this happening to my dog?
As with human heart disease, a single cause cannot always be pinpointed and dogs can suffer from heart problems at any age and to varying degrees. However, senior dogs are particularly susceptible, as are overweight ones. Certain breeds can also be predisposed to different conditions. Poor nutrition, whilst not a primary cause, should not be discounted as a contributing factor.
Studies have shown that small and medium dogs including Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Poodles and Chihuahuas may be more prone to developing Mitral Valve Disease, where the mitral valve of the heart steadily deteriorates. Meanwhile in larger dogs such as Irish Wolfhounds and Great Danes, Cardiomyopathy, an enlargement of the heart, is more prevalent (1).
Although not as common as other causes, infections can pose a threat to dogs’ heart health. Across the world, heartworm infections can prove fatal for dogs if left undetected. Fortunately in the UK, pesky heartworms are only present in a small number of imported dogs and therefore don’t pose a widespread threat to the population.
How to help
When it comes to detecting and treating heart disease, the most important thing is regular visits to the vets especially if your pet has already been diagnosed with heart disease. It’s also crucial to remember that symptoms can be silent so even if your pooch isn’t exhibiting any signs of heart problems, take a trip at least once a year. At home there are a number of ways in which you can help keep their heart ticking over.
Nutrition is key when it comes to heart health and at the top of the list are fish oils. These oils are rich in omega 3 and 6 which have multiple health benefits for pets, including for the heart. They are made up of ‘essential’ fatty acids that the body itself cannot produce. Of all the omegas, omega 3 is particularly beneficial for the normal functioning of the cardiovascular system; it is made up of essential fatty acids DHA and EPA which can help decrease inflammation of organs including the heart plus skin and joints. Dietary sources of omega 3 include oily fish such as sardines and salmon. Unfortunately not all conventional dog foods contain high levels of omega 3 so supplements can be a good option to ensure the optimum amount. Omega 6, on the other hand, is more plentiful in dog foods and a good source is chicken. The essential fatty acids in omega 6 can similarly help reduce inflammation.
Co-enzyme Q10 is also a great substance to look out for when creating a heart-friendly diet for your pet. It is not particularly prevalent in conventional dog foods but can be sourced from offal and smaller quantities are found in olive oil and fish, so again it may be an idea to consider supplementation. It is referred to as the biological ‘spark plug’ and some of the highest concentrations of it are found in the heart. Numerous studies have shown that co-enzyme Q10 may be effective in supporting the heart to function normally. This antioxidant is produced naturally in the body but the level of it will decline as dogs age so it’s a good idea to top it as they reach their senior years.
Another important factor that can help keep heart disease at bay is maintaining a healthy weight. As with humans, overweight and obese pets can be more susceptible to developing acquired heart diseases. Keep their weight down by limiting treats and taking them for regular walks. Staying active is a great way of safeguarding them against many health concerns and regular gentle exercise can also help dogs suffering from mild heart problems, just remember to let them rest whenever they need to.
What to remember
Although heart disease can be a scary thought, dogs with mild and moderate forms can often continue to live a relatively normal life with the correct nutrition, exercise and veterinary care. Spotting signs as early as possible is key to keeping heart failure at bay, so it’s wise to carefully monitor your dog and note down anything out of the ordinary, if in any doubt seek veterinary assistance.
Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.