Heart Conditions – What Is The Right Diet For Your Pet?
Cardiomyopathies, or heart conditions, are defined as being “any structural (microscopic or macroscopic) abnormality of the heart that may or may not result in heart failure1“. This can include conditions such as dilated cardiomyopathy, commonly seen in dogs and is a result of the heart being enlarged, and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, commonly seen in cats and is caused by a thickening of the ventricle walls2. Veterinary treatment which is likely to include medication is always highly recommended if your pet is diagnosed with a heart condition, and is likely to be necessary in many cases for your pet’s wellbeing, however, there are steps you can take at home to improve the management of their condition. Changing your pet’s diet may be a good place to start.
When feeding a dog or cat with a heart condition, it should be noted that not all commercial pet foods are suitable. Some may contain ingredients that can aggravate your pet’s conditions, whereas others may provide benefits. Therefore, it is important to understand which ingredients to look for in your pet’s food. Fish oils and foods containing high-quality protein have proven to have beneficial attributes when used in the treatment of heart conditions. Foods containing low levels of protein and fats, and foods containing added sodium, or salt, are best avoided.
As discussed in previous articles, marine sourced omega oils provide a wide range of benefits, and these include helping to prevent and improve heart disease. The omega 3 fatty acids Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) found predominantly in fish oils can improve blood flow throughout the heart and blood vessels, as well as reduce blood pressure and viscosity, and help reduce the rate of irregular heartbeats caused by a lack of blood to the heart muscles3. Whilst many pet products claim to contain omega oils, many are plant-based oils such as flaxseed, which when absorbed reacts differently in the body. Others may only contain trace amounts of marine omega oils, not enough to be considered beneficial. Rockster dog food contains 1% of salmon oil in each tin and is one of the few pet foods that contain marine omega oils in a beneficial quantity whilst remaining within the safe upper limit of the level of omega oils that can be safely provided to dogs4, ensuring maximum benefit for your dog. Good quality marine based omega oils are highly beneficial for dogs diagnosed with heart conditions. Regardless of your pet’s diet, however, it is always best to provide an additional quality marine based omega oil supplement.
Omega 3 oils are also important for regulating oxidative stress in both dogs and cats. Oxidative stress occurs at a cellular level when the body is coping will certain illnesses or injuries. Trauma such as heart disease causes chemical processes within the cells to malfunction, resulting in the production of large amounts of free radical molecules. These molecules are usually present in small amounts within the body, as a naturally occurring byproduct of cell metabolism, however, when present in larger amounts the body cannot effectively regulate them5. This results in damage to the cells, starting with the fatty lipid membrane wall which surrounds the cells. As omega oils are made up of essential fatty acids, they are a key component in maintaining the structure of cell walls. Accordingly, providing your pet with a diet high in good quality omega oils helps to strengthen the cell walls, making them less susceptible to damage6.
There are many misconceptions with regards to protein content, and it was once believed that animals diagnosed with heart conditions would benefit from a diet low in protein. Modern research has found this to be inaccurate7, and it is actually essential for your pet to be eating a diet high in digestible, good quality protein. Cachexia, the loss of lean body mass, is a disorder associated with heart conditions, and cardiac cachexia has been reported to be present in “over 50% of dogs with dilated cardiomyopathy8“. By feeding your pet a diet high in digestible fats and protein, you are providing them with more resources to metabolise into muscle and fat, thus potentially slowing down or halting the progression of cachexia9. If you feed your pet a senior or light food you might consider changing their diet if they are diagnosed with a heart condition. Senior and light foods are often lower in protein than adult foods due to the average senior or overweight pet’s declined mobility and sometimes lower ability to process protein. If your pet is considered to be a senior animal but is diagnosed with a heart condition it may be more beneficial for them to be on adult food, especially if they are showing signs of weight loss that could be associated with cachexia. You should always discuss this with your vet, especially if your animal has recently been diagnosed with a heart condition, as your pet’s specific condition might require an alternative approach and nothing in this article should be considered to be a substitute for veterinary advice.
High-quality protein such as those found in fresh meats from identified sources will be naturally higher in essential amino acids, protein, and other essential nutrients. Taurine is an essential amino acid for cats, however, it is not considered essential for dogs due to their ability to synthesise it naturally in their bodies10. In several human studies11, taurine supplementation was found to be beneficial to those diagnosed with congestive heart failure due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is believed that a similar effect can be had in other animals, including dogs and cats12. Meats that are high in taurine include fish, muscle meats, and organ meats such as heart and liver. Certain seafood produces such as tuna and mussels have been found to have some of the highest concentrations of taurine13.
It should be remembered, however, that taurine present in pet foods can vary considerably depending on the way in which the food is prepared. Taurine is a water-soluble substance, so when exposed to high levels of water in the cooking process, it is broken down and can no longer be utilised by your pet. Cooking techniques such as boiling are proven to greatly reduce the taurine content, whereas foods that are baked or are fed raw contain higher levels of taurine14.
Animal protein is also high in arginine, an essential amino acid in both dogs and cats that reduces the clumping of platelets, which form blood clots, and selenium, a trace mineral that reduces oxidative stress and cell damage15. Some commercial pet foods include selenium as a supplement in their foods, however, this is often a synthetic alternative and has a lower bioavailability than naturally occurring selenium16 and accordingly offers limited health benefits.
A diet high in animal protein will potentially provide your pet with more benefits compared to a low protein diet, and it is also recommended to avoid foods that include cereals, grains, and high amounts of vegetables in substitution for meat protein.
It is recommended that dogs and cats diagnosed with a heart condition should be on a diet low in sodium to reduce the strain on the heart17. When looking at the sodium content of your pet’s diet, all elements must be taken into account, including all treats they may receive. If your pet is on high-quality natural food, there may be no need to alter their diet. However, if their food contains added sodium, or ingredients high in salt such as gravy, this can be detrimental to their health. Some commercial and supermarket brands of treats contain high levels of salt and should be avoided or replaced with natural alternatives. It is also best to avoid feeding human foods high in sodium such as sausages, processed meats, cheese, canned fish (when preserved in brine), and pasta.Back