At your dog’s annual exam, your vet says she hears a heart murmur in your dog’s heart. What is a heart murmur? A heart murmur is a soft, swooshing sound rather than a sharp ‘lub-dub” sound during a normal heart beat. The murmur is an indication that the heart is not working correctly and will eventually result in heart failure. Together with medications, homemade dog food recipes can help stabilize dogs with heart disease and improve their quality of life.
What Causes Heart Murmurs in Dogs?
A heart murmur is caused by the regurgitation of blood back into the holding chambers (atria) of the heart. The regurgitation occurs because heart valves between the holding and pumping (ventricles) heart chambers do not close properly when the heart beats to pump blood to the rest of the body. Blood builds up in the holding chambers and less blood is pumped throughout the body. Most heart valve abnormalities are a result of genetic birth defects.
Chronic infection, especially infected gums and teeth, can spread bacteria to the heart valves. Bacterial growth due to dental disease is a leading cause of heart valve defects in dogs. Aging also causes changes in heart valves that prevent them from working properly. Faulty heart valves and murmurs are the leading cause of heart disease and heart failure in dogs.
What is Heart Disease and Heart Failure?
Overtime, the inadequate flow of blood caused by faulty heart valves leads to a negative spiral of body changes:
- ~The heart enlarges and beats faster to compensate for the decreased blood flow.
- ~The heart becomes so large that the heart muscles become weak and cannot contract properly
- ~Less blood is pumped through the arteries by the faster, weak contractions of the heart
- ~Blood accumulates in the veins of the lungs and organs of the abdomen.
- ~Blood accumulation in the veins causes fluid to leak out and accumulate in the chest and/or abdomen
- ~The leaked fluid causes difficulty breathing and the abdomen becomes extremely large and distended
- ~Dogs become less active, avoid exercise, cough or have difficulty breathing especially at night
- ~Lack of oxygen in the blood causes the heart and other organs in the body to fail
What is the Treatment for Heart Disease and Failure?
Surgical valve replacement is not yet as common in dogs as humans so treatment of heart failure controls the symptoms. Medications help the heart beat slower and stronger, reduce blood pressure in the veins and reduce fluid accumulation in the chest and abdomen. This makes breathing easier and allows organs in the abdomen to function more normally. Diet can also make a big difference in controlling the symptoms and contribute to the quality of life.
What Dog Food is Best for Dogs in Heart Failure?
Diets for heart failure dog patients need:
- ~More protein to prevent and reverse muscle loss so heart patients can lead more normal, active lives
- ~Less salt to reduce blood pressure
- ~More potassium and magnesium to replace the urine loss of these important minerals caused by medications
- ~Antioxidants to reduce damage to heart cells from heart enlargement and increased activity
- ~DHA and EPA omega-3 fats to reduce inflammation in the heart valves and heart muscle cells
- ~L-carnitine supplementation to help heart stamina
Many dogs do not like the special veterinary diets for heart failure. Homemade dog food recipes offer more variety of ingredients to satisfy individual tastes. A healthy appetite helps maintain muscle and weight so dogs can lead a more active and higher quality life.
Because homemade dog food is a lifelong diet, recipes need to be properly formulated and supplemented to meet the daily nutrient needs of heart patients. A special balance is needed to reduce salt without creating salt deficiency and adding potassium and magnesium without causing toxicity. Hearthstone Homemade has recipe and supplement programs for heart failure patients.
Dr. Ken Tudor,
THE DOG DIETITIAN