The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart. (Helen Keller)
Heart disease is common in both dogs and cats. Eleven percent of our dogs and 20 percent of our cats suffer from heart disease. These can be birth defects or acquired conditions such as the leaking of a valve, a thickening of the heart muscle or a problem with the rhythm of the heart.
To diagnose heart disease and to determine the right treatment, an ultrasound and an ECG are needed. Depending on which condition is diagnosed, medication may or may not be used.
The role of nutrition
What many people don’t know is that nutrition plays an important role in supporting the heart. For example, nutrition can play a role in:
- Fluid retention due to heart disease
- Blood pressure
- Overweight (which has a negative effect on heart disease)
- Cachexia (this is when animals lose weight and muscles due to heart disease )
- Disturbances in the salts due to the condition itself or due to the medication used.
- Taurine and Carnitine deficiency can cause heart disease
- Many animals with heart disease also develop kidney disease. Nutrition can help to prevent or support/treat this.
There is no single diet that is suitable for all heart patients! The diet should be adapted to the symptoms of that patient. A patient who retains a lot of fluid needs a different diet than a patient who does not. A patient who has too little potassium due to loss through the urine needs a different diet than a patient who does not. An animal that has a heart murmur but no symptoms (yet) needs a different diet than an animal that does have clinical symptoms. The most ideal diet for a heart patient is a fresh, well-balanced food that is tailor-made for that specific patient.
There are many nutrients that are extra important in animals with heart disease including: protein, potassium, sodium, chlorine, phosphate, magnesium, vitamin B, vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, carnitine, taurine, middle chain fatty acids, coenzyme Q10 and antioxidants. I’ll discuss some of them with you.
Because animals with heart disease lose muscle tissue, there must be a sufficient amount of good quality protein in the diet. If there is a lot of muscle loss, an increased amount of protein can be useful.
Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega 3 fatty acids may inhibit inflammatory mediators that play a role in heart disease. Research has shown that an increased amount of omega 3 in the diet in heart patients ensures a longer lifespan.
The salts: Potassium, Sodium and Chlorine
In heart disease, the body retains extra sodium and chlorine (salt). Healthy animals that eat extra salt with the diet can excrete the extra salt with the urine. But animals with heart disease are less able to do this. This extra salt in the body causes retention of fluid which can lead to complaints such as coughing, shortness of breath and a bloated belly. If these animals a diet with too much salt can worsen the symptoms.
On the other hand, salt is needed in the body. Too little salt in the diet causes serious problems.
Salt is also important for the palatability of the food. Food without salt is usually eaten less well. Since many heart patients have a reduced appetite, it is important that they like the food.
Medication that expels fluid is widely used in heart disease. Furosemide is an example of this. This medication is important and often life-saving. But this medication does cause that more salts are urinated, which can cause shortages. Therefore, it is important to do regular blood tests in heart patients to check the status of these salts. If deficiencies arise, they must be supplemented with the food.
The amount of salt in the food is therefore important. The diet should not contain too little salt to prevent problems, but in heart patients we want to limit the amount of salt. How much we should limit the amount of salt depends on the severity of that patient’s symptoms.
To make the story even more complicated, the other electrolytes also play a role. For example, the ratio between potassium and sodium (salt) is actually more important than the absolute amount of sodium in the diet. Potassium ensures that more sodium is excreted. In heart patients, therefore, there should always be more potassium in the diet than salt.
You can see that we have to look at the ideal amount of salt and potassium in the diet for each patient. In addition, in heart patients it is good to pay attention to the amount of salt in the snacks. Especially in animals with complaints of their heart disease, do not give snacks with a lot of salt in them.
Heart patients have an increased risk of concomitant kidney disease. Phosphorus plays an important role in the development and treatment of kidney disease. That is why it is important that the diet of a heart patient does not contain too much phosphorus.
Most dog and cat owners know the importance of taurine for the heart. A lack of taurine in the diet can cause heart problems.
Taurine is naturally found in meat, organ meats, fish, eggs and milk.
Cats cannot produce taurine themselves and therefore there must be enough in the diet. Dogs can make taurine themselves from a number of other amino acids (of which there must be enough in the diet) and therefore taurine is not seen as essential in dogs. There is no legal minimum amount of taurine that must be present in dog food. However, with the recent problems with taurine in dogs, research is needed to revise this. There are many factors that play a role in the absorption and production of taurine: the amount of amino acids required in the diet, the amount of taurine in the diet, the processing of the food (taurine is very sensitive to heat and freezing), the absorption of taurine and any factors that can influence this absorption, the absorption of non-natural taurine, etc.
In many heart patients, it can be useful to add extra taurine in the diet or as a supplement.
L-carnitine plays a role in fat metabolism. L-carnitine deficiency has been linked to heart disease in dogs (DCM). Research has shown that carnitine can inhibit inflammation, help with kidney disease, and help lower blood pressure. Carnitine is naturally found in meat, fish and dairy products, among other things. In heart patients, there must therefore be sufficient carnitine in the diet. An excess of carnitine can cause restlessness and should be avoided.
A deficiency of vitamin B can contribute to heart disease in humans. For example, a study showed that a third of people with heart disease were deficient in thiamine, one of the B vitamins. This has not yet been studied much in animals. There is a study in which cats with cardiomyopathy had lower vitamin B levels than healthy cats. It can therefore be useful to ensure an increased amount of B vitamins in the diet in animals with heart disease.
As you can see, putting together a good diet for an animal with a heart condition is tailor-made! But if this customization is done properly, it can significantly help support the condition!
In addition, there are a number of supplements that can support the heart. If your dog or cat has a heart murmur but has no symptoms (yet), you can already use these supplements to support the heart and prevent or inhibit deterioration.
As an integrative veterinarian with extra training in nutrition, I can help you to put together a good diet for your dog or cat with a heart condition. I use software so that I can see exactly what is in the food and adjust it completely to what your buddy needs!
As icing on the cake, we can also add Chinese nutritional therapy. We then look at the underlying pattern of your pet and adjust the diet accordingly. This way I can support your dog or cat even better and even more personally.
Want to know more? Please feel free to contact me.