Valentine's Day -- a time to think about your heart and the heart of someone you love. Where do you find more love than in the heart of your pet? Yes, we have husbands, wives, family and friends, but there's no substitute for that happy thump-thump-thump of a wagging tail, or the resonant vibration of a contented purr. Uncomplicated love.
It's my job to uncomplicate the facts about the health of the heart that loves you and teach you how to keep it strong.
Heart disease can feel like the end of a relationship. Fear and confusion make this diagnosis very frightening. But you can use simple guidelines to set your heart, and your pet's, at ease.
Heart disease in dog and cats, as in people, is on the rise. The genetics of some breeds puts them more at risk for heartache in their future. In these breeds, the careful preventive measures we use may be life-saving.
Those breeds include (alphabetically) but are not limited to:
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
- Cocker Spaniels
- English Bulldogs
- Irish Setters
- German Shorthair Pointers
- Great Danes
- Irish Wolfhounds
- St. Bernards
Small-breed dogs (like Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, Schnauzers, Poodles, Dachshunds, Miniature Pinchers, etc.) can develop heart disease as they age.
- Maine Coons
- American Shorthairs
Besides genetics, heart disease is often acquired by:
- Poor Nutrition
- Heartworm Disease
- Autoimmune diseases
- Heart-Based Tumors
- Side Effects From Chemo or Medications
- Chest Trauma
And sometimes, it's a combination of these. But that doesn't mean that as an owner you can't take action to keep your pet going strong. I have many patients with heart problems that live long, active lives.
Some heart disease is "silent" until health signs are suddenly obvious, and some heart disease is diagnosed at an early age.
Signs of heart disease include:
- Breathing pattern changes:
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing/open-mouth breathing
- Keeping body upright in a sphinx position to breathe better
- Increased abdominal effort to breathe
- Behavior changes--
- Reluctance to play
- Acting withdrawn, uninterested in walks
- Tiring easily
- Swollen abdomen
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Restless at night
Veterinarians listen for signs of heart murmurs during exams. There are audible, but benign, murmurs and heart diseases where no murmurs are ever heard. But a murmur in a pet that has any of the above signs is a concern. If there is a suspicion of heart disease, next steps are:
- Chest X-rays
- Echocardiogram (cardiac ultrasound) and exam by a cardiologist
- Possible prescriptions for cardiac medications
Once a heart condition is diagnosed and western medicines are prescribed, don't let another beat go by without a treatment program such as The Royal Treatment Heart Health Program:
1) Medicines and Supplements
I only prescribe medications and supplements for animals I have fully assessed. But as I can't do that on the web, some basic holistic supplements are listed below as a starting point for you and your vet.
2) Excellent Diet
The heart is a muscle; it needs lots of good quality protein in the food. Canned, commercial and home-prepared raw or cooked tend to be the best. They also provide appropriate moisture content to keep the body evenly hydrated. Dry food requires extra water to digest it and process the high heat extruded proteins. This means a sudden influx of water that will eventually be urinated out. Moist foods cause fewer urinary accidents. If you are already struggling with urinary accidents from diuretics, moist foods can be a godsend. Moderately limit salt in the food, treats and supplements.
3) Weight Management
Keep them lean, but remember that cardiac patients might also have trouble keeping on weight. If you're seeing excessive weight loss (called cardiac cachexia), add a few good quality carb sources to help -- like pumpkin or squashes, sweet potato or even oatmeal, but don't overdo or use inflammatory carbs like corn, wheat or soy.
4) Appropriate Exercise
Usually short, frequent, low-impact exercise is best -- like a nice walk. Exercise in an underwater treadmill is heart-friendly and promotes healthy circulation. The water creates hydrostatic pressure on the legs which helps venous return to the heart.
Acupuncture is also great for healthy circulation and blood pressure. If your pet doesn't stress with travel, the benefits of acupuncture can work wonders. Acupuncture can also help if there is arthritis or cognitive dysfunction keeping the animal from exercising or moving around.
4) Consider Dental Care
Consider this if your pet's mouth is full of tartar. Often anesthesia is not an option for cardiac patients. Brush the teeth or have your pet chew on raw (not cooked) bones to remove tartar. There are topical liquids that can also break down the tartar with pH (Petzlife/Vetzlife are products I like). My clinic offers anesthesia-free dentals -- but only to pets who don't need extractions or x-rays and won't become overly stressed or bite with manual restraint.
Herbs/Supplements to Benefit the Heart (use under vet advice only):
- CoEnzyme Q10 -- Helps with vasculature integrity and flexibility
- Probiotics -- Keep the GI tract healthy and promotes proper absorption of nutrients
- Arnica -- A homeopathic remedy, used for moving blood in clots, strokes, bruising, etc.
- Hawthorneberry -- An herb with protective effects shown to help strengthen the heart and regulate arrhythmias
- Dandelion -- a diuretic herb that can help decrease the fluid load on the heart
- Oregon Grape, Echinacea -- great antibiotic herbal remedies, especially good to fight bacteria from dental disease, infections that may damage heart valves
- Astragalus -- Herbal remedy helps regulates blood flow to the heart and blood pressure
- Amino acids specific for cardiac muscle function:
- Carnitine, Aringinine, and Taurine
- Taurine deficiency is seen in cats more often than dogs, because cats can't make it and excrete it in their bile. Supplementing with Taurine can benefit the heart in cats and dogs.
With an integrated approach, heart disease patients can live longer and more active lives. This is my goal with every patient, to keep that cheerful, unconditional love alive for as many Valentine's Days as possible.
Royal Treatment's Valentine's Day Dog Treat Recipe
Start with a greased (olive oil) heart-shaped ice cube tray
- 1 Cup of Pureed Meat baby food
- ½ cup of Cooked oatmeal
- ¼ cup of plain yogurt
- ¼ cup of canned pumpkin
Fill the ice cube tray cups.
Freeze 6-12 hours.
- ¼ cup plain yogurt
- ¼ cup cream cheese
- Several drops of Red vegetable food coloring, beet juice or pomegranate juice
- Whip these ingredients together.
Frost the treats. Put back in the freezer for a few hours. Serve them frozen to the love of your life, your pet.
Happy Valentine's Day!
For more by Barbara E. Royal, D.V.M., click here.
For more on pet health, click here.