Bernese Mountain Dogs
Health and Information Pages
|Heart Healthy Diet
By Lew Olson,
PhD Natural Health, LMSW-ACP
Heart Healthy Diet
Heart problems in dogs can range from mild to serious. They can be caused by genetic defects (sub-aortic stenosis, mitral valve defects, septal defects and more) to those caused by heartworm infection, cardiomyopathy and poor nutrition (lack of certain nutrients).
For more information and resources on heart defects, read Cardiovascular Disorders: http://b-naturals.com/Jan2003.php
For information on heartworm disease, go here:
What I hope to address in this article is information on specific dietary needs of dogs with cardiac problems and supplements that can help support the heart.
It is important to understand what type of heart disease your dog has been diagnosed with, the stage of the disease and if it is progressive. For diet considerations, not many changes are necessary unless the dog is prone to edema (retaining water), hypertension (high blood pressure), or is taking and current prescription medications (which can dictate supplementing or reducing certain nutrients).
In humans, salt restriction is often recommended. However, for dogs this can be contraindicated:
Minimizing salt in the diet is beneficial in preventing fluid buildup (ascites of pulmonary edema) only when the fluid is present. If you start a restricted sodium diet too soon you can actually cause the opposite effect.
Diets appropriate for end-stage heart disease are highly restricted in sodium and significantly restricted in protein. These restrictions are not appropriate for the management of Class I-II heart disease.
The Waltham site defines four classes of heart disease:
Class I: No limitations of physical activity: activity does not cause symptoms
Class II: Slight limitation of physical activity: ordinary activity causes symptoms
Class III: Marked limitation of physical activity: symptoms occur with less than ordinary activity
Class IV: Extreme limitation of physical activity: symptoms present at rest.
So sodium or salt restriction is not necessary in early stage heart disease and could actually do more harm than good. This would be an issue to discuss with your veterinarian as your pet's health is monitored. Certain drugs used may also necessitate potassium supplementation, so be sure to inquire about all prescription medications given to your dog with heart disease.
Another mineral that is important to consider besides sodium and potassium (which can help stop irregular heart beat) is magnesium. In some heart conditions, this can also be an important mineral to have in the diet.
Protein is very important for dogs with heart disease. Never restrict protein for these dogs, as protein starvation can cause heart stress and loss of muscle mass. High quality protein is needed, specifically from animal sources, raw or lightly cooked. High cooking can destroy taurine, which is necessary for heart health in canines. Red meats also contain l-carnitine, which supports muscle cell integrity of the heart. This is especially important for animals with hypotrophic or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (thinning or thickening of the heart muscle walls).
Fat in the diet of these dogs should be moderate, especially if the dog is overweight. It is very important to keep the weight normal on these dogs, so as to not over tax or stress the heart.
Most normal raw diets, or home cooked diets, are fine for dogs with heart disease. Homemade diets are naturally low in sodium. Sodium is added to most processed dog foods as a preservative. Fresh foods, including meat, eggs, vegetables and dairy (except cottage cheese, which is high in sodium) are fine. Do not feed ham, bacon or other smoked meats, as these are high in sodium. If the dog is overweight, or in class III or IV heart failure, be sure to trim or drain excess fat, avoid high fat foods (lamb, goat, pork) and remove skin from all poultry served.
There are several good supplements to help with supportive care of the heart.
L-Carnitine helps to stop cells in the heart muscle from deteriorating and aids in heart function. This is probably most important in cardiomyopathy. L-carnitine is found naturally in most animal proteins, especially red meats, although heavy cooking can cause loss of this nutrient. Supplements can be given at 500 mg per 20 lbs (10 kg) of body weight daily.
Taurine is found in most animal proteins, but like l-carnitine, cooking can destroy it. Serve the meat raw or lightly cooked. A good home made diet will contain plenty of taurine, but if necessary add 500 mg per 50 lbs (25 kg) of body weight daily.
CoQ10 is an enzyme that helps support the heart and is important to lower blood pressure.
It is also considered to be an antioxidant in nature. Dosage would be about 1 mg per pound (2 mg per kg) of body weight of the dog daily.
Fish body oil or salmon oil contains omega 3 fatty acids. These will help with controlling inflammation and also to stop loss of muscle mass. They also help with the immune system, coat and skin, and hormone regulation. Give these capsules at approximately 1,000 mg (180 EPA, 120 DPA) per ten pounds of body weight daily. Vitamin E given with fish oil is helpful not only to the heart, but it also helps to work synergistically with the omega 3 fatty acids. Give around 5 IU per pound (10 IU per kg) of body weight daily.
Vitamins B-complex and C can also help the heart. Low levels of B vitamins have been linked to cardiomyopathy in cats, and vitamin C is needed to synthesize carnitine. A medium sized dog would get a B-50 complex and around 250-500 mg of vitamin C once or twice a day.
Here are some facts to remember about diet:
Do not restrict sodium unless directed by your veterinarian. This is mostly for later stage heart disease, or in case of certain medications. Please remember, home cooked diets and raw diets are naturally low in sodium.
Do feed high quality protein, which includes animal proteins, either raw or lightly cooked.
Check how your dog's prescriptions may affect your dog's nutritional needs. This could include a need for less or more potassium and added magnesium. Also read prescription inserts and get instructions from your veterinarian.
Reduce fat *if* your dog is overweight, or in later stages of heart disease. Dogs do not have the same problems with cholesterol as humans do, but being overweight can add an extra burden to the heart.
Supplements recommended for heart health include fish or salmon oil and vitamin E, B-complex vitamins, and vitamin C. Additional supplements that may help in several heart conditions include l-carnitine, taurine and CoQ10.
Any of the pre-made raw diets would be fine, but do check that no sodium has been added. An example of a home made raw diet would look like this:
For a fifty pound dog:
8 ounces (1 cup) of meat, rotating use of beef heart, kidney, tripe, turkey, chicken, lamb or rabbit.
4 ounces (1/2 cup) of pureed or steamed vegetables, including broccoli, zucchini, dark leafy greens, sweet potato, green beans, cabbage and carrots
Two ounces of plain yogurt
One pound of chicken necks or backs (remove the skin if animal is overweight), or pork neck bones or tails, lamb breast, or turkey necks
A cooked recipe might look like this:
8 ounces (one cup) of cooked hamburger, beef heart, kidney, lamb, turkey, chicken or rabbit (drain fat if dog is overweight)
One egg, hard-boiled, soft boiled or scrambled
4 ounces (½ cup) of steamed vegetables, including broccoli, zucchini, dark leafy greens, sweet potato, green beans, cabbage and carrots
Two ounces of plain yogurt 500 mg of calcium carbonate, or ¼ teaspoon of ground eggshell
The PM meal would be the similar, but use a different meat source for variety. Recipes can be made in large batches and frozen for individual meals. These can be thawed out the night before. Do not serve frozen or cold, but closer to room temperature.
Variety is very important whether the meal is cooked or raw, as different foods offer different nutrients. It is a good idea to include organ meat at least twice a week, including beef kidney or liver. Use liver in smaller amounts, as it is very rich. Heart is very good to feed a dog with cardiac disease, as it is high in many of the nutrients needed for heart health. I would try and feed heart at least twice a week.
Add the supplements listed above, and I might also suggest adding the Bertes Immune Blend for the vitamin C, B complex, amino acids (l-glutamine and l-arginine), the digestive enzymes and acidophilus it contains.
Always monitor your dog's health condition with your veterinarian. This, along with diet and supplements, will offer your dog the best chance for longevity and improved quality of life.
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