Heart disease in dogs and cats has a variety of causes, from dietary deficiencies to genetic predisposition. Read up on the natural supplements that can help support your best friend’s heart.
While it’s true that dogs and cats don’t have heart attacks, they definitely do get heart disease. Common causes of heart problems in our canine and feline companions include dietary deficiencies, parasites (especially heartworm), aging (especially aging heart valves), and inherited breed-related problems. A number of natural supplements can help support your dog or cat’s heart health, even in the face of these risks.
HELP HER HEART WITH THESE SUPPLEMENTS
Vitamin E is especially important for cats on a diet high in oily fish, since their bodies need additional antioxidant vitamin E to protect against the pro-oxidant effect of too many unsaturated fatty acids. Vitamin E can also help dogs with heart problems. It should be taken with vitamin C, which restores it to its anti-inflammatory form once it has done its job.
Did you know? Cats are especially susceptible to dietary deficiencies. This has become increasingly obvious given the increased levels of carbohydrates in their diets, especially poor quality dry foods.
A diet too low in the amino acid taurine can cause dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in cats. Taurine is found in high quantities in mammalian hearts, including those of rodents — a cat’s natural prey. Other good sources of taurine are meat, poultry, fish, and dairy foods. Preventing DCM is much better than trying to reverse it once a cat has developed it, so be sure there is enough taurine in your cat’s diet. Fortunately, researchers figured out the connection between commercial diets and DCM, with the result that the minimum amount of taurine recommended by AAFCO has been increased, twice. So we now see less DCM than we used to.
Did you know? If you prepare your cat’s food yourself, be aware that rabbit is lower in taurine than other meats, so is not a good base for a feline diet.
Another amino acid found in high quantities in hearts is L-carnitine. It helps both dogs and cats with heart problems, and works even better when combined with taurine. There is some evidence that certain breeds of dog have a higher requirement for both taurine and L-carnitine; some of these dogs develop DCM that is reversible when treated with a combination of these amino acids. Any animal with heart disease can benefit from both taurine and L-carnitine.
The body uses CoQ10 to help with the production of adenosine triphosphate (or ATP, the source of the body’s energy). The highest quantities of ATP are found in tissues requiring large amounts of energy to function — especially the heart. Although ATP is naturally produced by the body, it declines as the animal gets older, especially when heart disease is present. Humans taking CoQ10 show improved heart function and decreased need for hospitalization, and my dog patients show the same.
Did you know? CoQ10 is fat-soluble, so the dry form is very poorly absorbed; a gel cap is better, especially when given with meals to increase absorption even more.
Animals with congestive heart failure may have lower levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in their bodies. The anti-inflammatory action of Omega-3s can help with heart disease. These fatty acids prolong clotting time, resulting in the formation of fewer clots — a big benefit for cats with heart disease.
As congestive heart failure advances, the body starts retaining fluid, especially in the lungs. A natural diuretic such as dandelion can help in the initial stages. Eventually, dogs and cats with this problem will need a drug with stronger action, but using a natural diuretic at the same time may make it possible to decrease drug amounts and reduce the risk of side effects. Always work with your veterinarian if you want to try this — he or she can monitor your dog or cat to make sure a lower dose of the drug is still working properly.
HAWTHORN — WHEN IT’S INDICATED, WHEN IT’S NOT
Hawthorn is an herb that can help dogs in the very early stages of inherited heart disease. It’s approved for congestive heart failure by Commission E, a scientific advisory board in Germany. The fruit, leaves, and flowers of hawthorn have been used by Native Americans, Europeans, and in Chinese medicine for hundreds to thousands of years. In fact, there is more research supporting hawthorn for heart disease than for any other herb.
However, you should not use hawthorn in dogs or cat with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). This form of heart disease is especially common in cats, although it can also be seen in dogs — especially Boston Terriers.
In animals with DCM, hawthorn has a strong antioxidant effect and increases blood circulation to the heart. It increases the force of contraction in the heart muscle and decreases certain types of abnormal rhythms. It can take four to eight weeks to see hawthorn’s full effects, so don’t give up on it too early.
Did you know? Some of the effects hawthorn provides are helpful for DCM but not HCM; it can even make HCM worse.
Interestingly, hawthorn acts the same way as the drug pimobendan. Research shows that pimobendan delays the onset of DCM’s clinical signs, and results in a longer lifespan in dogs with heart disease. Similar research shows that hawthorn has the same effects in humans. However, hawthorn can interfere with pimobendan, or increase its side effects. So don’t start your animal on hawthorn if he’s already on pimobendan.
Did you know? Hawthorn can also interact with digoxin and interfere with its effects. If you’re taking your dog to a veterinary cardiologist, let them know if your dog is already on hawthorn, so they can adjust the dose of medications they prescribe.
Your dog or cat’s heart health is crucial to her overall well- being, so it’s important to pay attention to her potential risk factors, and take steps to support her heart throughout life. Be sure to work with a holistic or integrative veterinarian who can help you decide which of the supplements outlined in this article your best friend should be taking, and what the best dose would be for her individual requirements.
A graduate of veterinary medicine at the University of California, Davis, Dr. Nancy Scanlan has used nutraceuticals since 1969. She became certified in acupuncture by IVAS in 1987 and followed up with education in chiropractic, Chinese herbs, Western herbs, and homotoxicology. This led to 16 years as the only holistic practitioner in a 7-person practice. After retiring from practice, Dr. Scanlan served as executive director of the AHVMA for 3 years before stepping into her current role as executive director of the AHVM Foundation. Dr. Scanlan is a consultant, author of a text on complementary medicine for veterinary technicians, and writer and lecturer about complementary and alternative veterinary medicine. She is currently enrolled in a masters degree program on integrative cancer treatment at the University of South Florida’s medical school.