Canine heart disease is estimated to affect about 10% of all dogs. As in humans, incidence of heart disease in dogs increases dramatically with age. But while the most common form of heart disease in humans is coronary artery disease, dogs are protected against arteriosclerosis by their advantageous lipid metabolism and the architecture of the blood vessels. And yet heart disease is very common in older dogs.
Most Common Heart Disease in Dogs
In canine heart disease, the problem is not arteries that harden or become obstructed, but heart valves and muscles that weaken to the point of failure. The most common heart diseases in dogs are mitral valve disease (MVD) and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).
In mitral valve disease, the mitral heart valve in the powerful left ventricle begins to leak, resulting in blood flowing backward (mitral regurgitation) and gradual enlargement of one or more heart chambers.
In dilated cardiomyopathy, the heart muscles become progressively weaker, impairing the heart’s ability to contract normally and resulting in gradual enlargement (dilation).
While mitral valve disease affects primarily toy to medium sized dogs, dilated cardiomyopathy affects predominantly large and giant breed dogs.
To learn more about mitral valve disease and dilated cardiomyopathy, including which breeds are most at risk, symptoms, prognosis, and treatment options, see Most Common Heart Disease in Dogs.
Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs
Congestive heart failure is the end result of mitral valve disease and dilated cardiomyopathy. It’s what happens when the heart can no longer supply the rest of the body with oxygenated blood at the rate and volume required.
When a dog with mitral valve disease or dilated cardiomyopathy starts experiencing clinical symptoms of heart disease, this is the beginning of congestive heart failure.
While “heart failure” sounds dire, it’s a gradual process, and dogs can live with congestive heart failure for many months and sometimes even years.
Heart failure may affect the left side of the heart, the right side of the heart, or both sides. In all cases, the heart becomes enlarged, pressure builds, contractions weaken, and tissues and organs become congested with fluid.
For more information about this process as well as a discussion of symptoms, disease stages, treatment options, and prognoses, see Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs.
Cardiac Cachexia in Dogs
Cardiac cachexia is the body wasting condition seen in many dogs with congestive heart failure.
Cardiac cachexia is not like normal weight loss because of the large amounts of lean muscle mass lost, resulting in a poorer prognosis and diminished quality of life. Also unlike normal weight loss, the condition cannot be remedied by simply increasing calorie intake.
In What Is Cardiac Cachexia? I explain the process underlying this condition and the many contributing factors.
You’ll also find information about what can be done to improve cardiac cachexia, including an innovative treatment protocol that has been proven to allow cachectic humans to gain back lean muscle mass.
Spironolactone for Dogs
A hallmark of heart disease is activation of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS), which occurs in response to reduced blood flow to the kidneys.
RAAS activation constitutes the body’s attempt to compensate for the decreased blood supply, but high levels of the hormone aldosterone have a host of negative effects, including sodium and fluid retention, which exacerbates tissue and organ congestion.
This is where spironolactone comes in. As an aldosterone antagonist, spironolactone blocks the effects of aldosterone.
See Spironolactone for Dogs to learn more about RAAS activation, the effects of aldosterone and spironolactone, as well as potential side effects associated with spironolactone use in dogs.
We’ll also look at the research to answer the important question of whether spironolactone increases survival times for dogs with congestive heart failure.
Supplements Used for Canine Heart Disease
Drugs are not our only option in the treatment of heart disease.
Supplements ranging from amino acids and fatty acids to coenzymes, vitamins and minerals play a role as well. While some supplements are used to correct deficiencies that can be a cause or effect of canine heart disease, others are used for their pharmacological benefits.
Supplements can help slow the progression of heart disease, reduce the severity of symptoms, improve quality of life, and decrease the need for medication. Sometimes they can even reverse some of the damage to the heart.
In Supplements Used for Canine Heart Disease, I take a long look at the various supplements that may be helpful for dogs with cardiac disease. What are they and what do they do? What’s the evidence for their efficacy and what constitutes a therapeutic dose for dogs? Those are some of the questions you’ll see answered.
Nutritional Management of Heart Disease
If your dog has been diagnosed with heart disease or congestive heart failure, there is little question that nutrition will be an important part of the treatment plan. But what kind of diet is right for canine heart patients?
We now know that some of the traditional dietary recommendations for dogs with heart disease were actually counterproductive, but what are the new guidelines?
That’s what I explore in Nutritional Management of Heart Disease.
First, we’ll look at macronutrients, and you’ll learn how much and what type of protein, fat, and carbohydrate dogs with heart disease should eat.
Then we’ll look at the most important micronutrients for canine heart patients: sodium, potassium, and magnesium. You’ll find out how many milligrams of these minerals should be in your dog’s diet, and I’ll provide you with a formula to quickly calculate the amounts contained in dog foods.
Commercial Heart Diets
Have you wondered if your dog should be eating a prescription heart diet?
Commercial Heart Diets examines the therapeutic dog foods available for dogs with asymptomatic heartdisease and congestive heart failure. And I’ll bet you get a surprise reading some of this information.
I look at protein-fat-carbohydrate composition, protein quality, and micronutrient content, including, of course, sodium levels, as well as inclusion of nutraceuticals such as L-carnitine and EPA/DHA that are known to be beneficial for canine heart patients. I also discuss whether regular maintenance dog foods can be fed to dogs with heart disease.
Home Cooked Heart Diet for Dogs
There is nothing quite like a homemade diet to provide your canine heart patient with optimal nutritional support.
Home Cooked Heart Diet for Dogs looks at the advantages and disadvantages of feeding a home-cooked heart diet, and provides you with a complete and balanced recipe based on the latest nutritional guidelines for canine heart disease.
You’ll learn how to make a special meatloaf that’s as nutritious as it is delicious (to dogs anyway) and an excellent natural source of all the nutrients known to be important for dogs with heart disease: carnitine, taurine, arginine, EPA and DHA, coenzymeQ10, B vitamins, and various antioxidants.
Sodium is moderately restricted, making this recipe appropriate for most dogs with asymptomatic heart disease and mild to moderate congestive heart failure.