The Pet Parent's Guide To A Heart-Healthy Hound

07/27/2011 04:53 pm ET | Updated Sep 26, 2011

With 14 percent of the dog population suffering from some form of heart disease, it's always possible that your furry friend may be at risk. Millions of dogs suffer from different types of heart disease leading to heart failure. And because it often goes undiagnosed, the problem only gets worse.

According to Nick Kramer, a representative of VPI Pet Health Insurance, there were 2,182 claims related to Valvular Heart Disease, 1,599 claims for Congestive Heart Failure and 856 claims for Arrhythmia/Syncope this year -- a jump from two years ago.

Early indicators of a heart problem in your pup include an increased breathing rate, coughing and trouble exercising. The heart's job is to pump oxygen and blood around the body, and when the heart doesn't do its job, the body can't do what it's supposed to do. It's hard to see some of these signs until your pet is in the throes of heart failure -- and then it may be too late.

What are your options? VetCom, a bi-monthly newsletter for the veterinary community, recommends taking advantage of wellness testing programs in order to evaluate your pet's general health and learn about health problems -- including heart disease -- before serious problems develop.

Dr. Carol Osbourne is the founder and president of PAAWS (Pet Anti-Aging Wellness System), and the author of two guides that offer pet parents simple solutions regarding pet care. Dr. Osbourne suggests routine visits to a veterinarian for heart disease diagnostics, including both blood and urine tests, x-rays and an electrocardiograph, which can pinpoint details about specific problems and problem locations.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) and Mitral Valve Insufficiency (MVI) are the most common forms of heart disease in dogs. Cardiomyopathy occurs when the dog's heart walls become thinner and weaker, damaging normal heart contracts and circulation. MVI is degeneration of the heart valve, and as with Cardiomyopathy, harms circulation and blood flow. MVI mostly attacks the aging members of the smaller breeds, while Cardiomyopathy is more common in larger breeds.

Heart disease treatment for pets is similar to humans, including medication and a good low-sodium diet. If your dog is showing mild to moderate symptoms, it may be necessary to decrease their sodium ingestion to less than .3 percent; dry foods tend to be lower in sodium than canned foods. Dr. Osbourne says "An organic fresh diet, low in sodium and trans fats and high in omega-3′s is ideal for heart health." Severe symptoms require a diet with even less sodium, such as a specially formulated heart diet blend.

Pacemakers are also an option for animals whose hearts are unresponsive to other treatments. Dr. Osbourne suggests considering homeopathic remedies such as the hawthorne berry and foxglove, as well as other common vitamins and minerals.

There is no steadfast cure for canine heart disease, but the heart is a muscle, and muscles are known to heal. The ideal option if your pet is diagnosed with heart disease whose traditional medical medicines do not work is to change previous routines. This includes buying or making wholesome dog food, using clean and filtered water, and considering alternative herbs and therapies that may have better luck.

And when things seem most bleak, never forget about the mysterious power of "Puppy Love."

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