Our hearts are amazing, beating billions of times over our lifetimes to keep blood flowing through our bodies. The heart works like a well-oiled machine to ensure that each part of our body receives the blood, oxygen, and nutrients needed for proper functioning. To keep human hearts healthy, we are encouraged to eat a heart-healthy diet, which consists of whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Our pets need to keep their hearts healthy, too. Unfortunately, as in people, pets can develop heart disease. Below are types of heart disease that can affect our pets:
- Dilated cardiomyopathy: an enlargement of the heart
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM): a thickening of the heart muscle, leading to stiffened heart chambers and reduced blood-pumping ability
- Congestive heart failure (CHF): end-stage heart disease
When our pets develop heart disease, a heart-healthy diet is needed to maintain good health despite the heart not working as well as it used to. With so many pet diets from which to choose, though, it can be daunting to figure out the ideal diet for a pet with heart disease.
The information provided in this article will help you learn the key components of a heart-healthy diet for pets. Consult with your veterinarian to select a diet that is best suited to meet your pet’s individual dietary needs.
Components of a Heart-Healthy Diet for Pets
Sodium is an essential nutrient. However, it promotes fluid retention and increases blood pressure, both of which are bad news for a pet with heart disease. A reduced-sodium diet reduces fluid retention and helps keep blood pressure in a healthy range. For pets, a heart-healthy diet should have no more than about 100 mg sodium/100 calories. Some dogs may need even less sodium, depending on the severity of their heart disease.
Importantly, sodium should not be restricted too severely or too quickly— a sudden, severe sodium restriction may cause the body to retain more fluid.
Pets with heart disease can lose weight and muscle mass. Severe heart disease can cause a condition called cachexia, which is a severe loss of muscle and overall body mass. To combat this loss, pets with heart disease need to eat a diet containing 25–30% high-quality lean protein, such as chicken or salmon.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have long been touted for their health benefits. For example, they reduce inflammation and promote a normal heart rhythm. For pets with heart disease, it is recommended to supplement their diet with fish oil that contains two types of omega-3 fatty acids: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Consult with your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist to determine just how much fish oil supplement to add to your pet’s diet.
Taurine is an amino acid, which is the building block of a protein. It helps maintain normal heart functioning. Unfortunately, cats and some dog breeds (Cocker spaniels, Newfoundlands, Golden Retrievers, Portuguese Water Dogs) are prone to developing taurine deficiencies.
Among pets with heart disease, taurine supplements should be given only to those with a known taurine deficiency. Taurine supplementation is unlikely to benefit pets without the deficiency.
A discussion about a heart-healthy diet would be remiss without a mention of weight management. Excess weight places extra stress on the heart, making the heart work harder to pump blood. In essence, a combination of heart disease and excess weight is a double whammy for pets, just like it is in people.
Maintaining a healthy weight won’t reverse a pet’s heart disease, but it will keep a diseased heart from having to work even harder to function properly. Your veterinarian can help you develop a weight loss plan for your pet, if necessary.
Summing things up
For pets with heart disease, a healthy diet can help them feel good and have a good quality of life, despite their heart not working so well. If your pet has heart disease, work with your veterinarian to feed the diet that is best suited for your pet.
Content provided by JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM. Dr. Pendergrass is owner and founder of JPen Communications, a medical communications company specializing in consumer education.
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