Heart disease is often acquired due to wear & tear, injury or infection. Chronic valvular disease or Endocardiosis is the most common type of heart disease in dogs. This occurs when valves of the heart weaken and begin to leak. The symptoms of heart disease include coughing, respiratory distress, weight loss or muscle wasting, fluid build-up in lungs or abdomen, exercise intolerance etc.

Heart disease in dogs cannot be cured, but with the right diet and early diagnosis, dogs can maintain & live a healthy life. Nutrition can also play an important part in increasing their quality of life despite their condition. Dogs with heart disease need to maintain adequate calorie intake with an appropriate split of calories between protein, fats, and carbohydrates. While diet alone is usually not the only treatment for heart disease, nutrition tailored to your dog’s heart condition may help slow the progression of heart disease. It is important to feed a well-balanced diet that meets established guidelines of essential nutrients for dogs. 

Nutritional Goals for dogs with heart disease:
  • The primary goal is to maintain optimal body composition. Dogs with heart disease often experience weight loss and muscle wasting. Maintaining a healthy body weight and focusing on the quality of lean muscle mass is therefore key for optimal body structure. Dog owners should check their dog’s body condition score and weight regularly, and adjust the calories accordingly. You can also assess your dog’s muscle condition score to maintain lean muscle mass.
  • Over-weight dogs can have increased heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory distress. The extra weight burdens the heart and worsen cardiac output. Get a nutrition plan formulated for your dog that targets both the weight and the nutritional needs for a healthy heart functioning. 
  • Nutritional deficits make the heart disease symptoms worse. It is important to feed your dog a well-balanced and fresh diet so that he/she receives all essential nutrients, and to avoid nutritional deficiencies. At the same time, too much of a vitamin or mineral can also worsen a dog’s heart condition. 
Important nutrients for a dog with heart disease

Protein/Amino acids – Diets that are low in protein should be avoided unless your pet also has chronic kidney disease. Feeding high quality protein is required for dogs with loss of muscle mass or anorexia. Phosphorus should be restricted in dogs with kidney disease. But make sure your dog gets adequate quantity of all the essential amino acids through bioavailable food sources for healthy heart functioning. 

Potassium – Certain medications such as ACE inhibitors can cause body to retain potassium. Hyperkalemia can be detrimental to dogs with heart disease. This can lead to lethargy and weakness. But if your dog is on diuretics due to fluid build-up, he or she can experience hypokalemia (low potassium).

Magnesium – Dogs with heart disease can have low magnesium levels due to drugs. Magnesium is an important macro-mineral for muscle contraction, protein synthesis, muscle function etc. It is also important for normal heart functioning. Low magnesium levels can make your dog weak, and can lead to arrythmias (abnormal heart rhythms). 

Sodium – Sodium can cause a dog’s body to retain water. Healthy dogs can easily excrete sodium, chloride and water in their urine. However, dogs with heart disease and hypertension may lose their ability to excrete excess sodium. Low sodium diets are therefore appropriate for dogs with heart disease. Dogs fed low levels of sodium or chloride at an early-stage of heart disease will not necessarily delay its progression. But it is always better to avoid feeding excess sodium & chloride. In homecooked meals, instead of adding sea salt for Iodine, you can use a Kelp supplement with low sodium. If you feed a commercial dog food, it is best to feed a prescription diet designed for heart diseases in dogs. Water can also be a source of sodium and chloride. In case of advanced heart disease, it is better to feed distilled water to your dog as it has all the minerals removed. It is important to also check the sodium values of treats, rawhides, chew that you feed your dog.

Antioxidants – Any chronic health condition can build oxidative stress in dogs, and antioxidant rich food can help counter the harmful substances that damage the cells. Antioxidant rich food such as blueberries, broccoli, red bell peppers, blackberries, red cabbage etc can lower the stress on the heart muscles. 

Specific dietary supplements such as taurine, fish oil, carnitine – If your dog’s diet has enough methionine & cysteine, taurine is not required in the diet. Certain breeds of dogs (eg. Golden Retrievers) who are predisposed to Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) may require higher levels of these amino acids to avoid deficiency. In that case, it is best to supplement your dog with Taurine. Taurine also acts as antioxidant and can reduce oxidative stress & stabilize heart cells. Omega-3 fish oil helps reduce inflammation and muscle loss. It does not prevent heart disease, but it may benefit dogs with CHF. Ventricular function also improves significantly in dogs fed fish oil.  

Regular health checks will allow your vet to listen for an irregular heartbeat or heart murmurs, which can indicate underlying heart disease. Maintaining optimal body structure and avoiding nutritional deficiencies or excesses is important for dogs with heart disease. Other medical conditions, such as kidney disease, gastrointestinal disease, or bladder stones can make the nutritional management of heart disease complicated. It is critical for an effective treatment of your dog’s heart disease to give all recommended meds by your Vet regularly. Addressing both the heart disease and other disorders through right diet should be done to give your dog a healthy life. Feeding the right diet will help your dog’s heart from early on in life. Feed a homecooked fresh food that is designed to your dog’s specific nutritional and metabolic needs, taking into consideration the stage of her/his cardiac dysfunction. Food for dogs with cardiovascular disorder should be balanced and contain all essential nutrients at appropriate levels.