Take a preventive approach
Cats and dogs can develop heart problems, just like us. Learn how to keep your fuzzy friend healthy.
Anyone who owns and loves pets knows that they occupy a special place in our hearts, with their unconditional love and desire to spend time with us. So it’s up to us, as pet owners, to return the favour and do our best to look after their precious hearts.
How heart disease develops
Our companion animals can develop heart problems. Some heart defects are hereditary, meaning there is no permanent cure, but these represent only a small percentage of pets’ health problems and are usually diagnosed when the animal is young. With proper care and regular veterinary checkups, the chances that this pet will lead a healthy, happy life are greatly increased.
Other heart conditions can be age-related (such as congestive heart failure in dogs), or they can develop as a result of other health conditions (such as an overactive thyroid in cats). All of these conditions must be diagnosed by your veterinarian and managed properly. Regular veterinary checkups are an important part of maintaining a pet’s health, but owners should be aware of the warning signs of possible heart problems.
We want to do what we can to keep our pets’ hearts healthy and working at their best, and fortunately there are preventive measures we can take.
Watch your pet’s weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is at the top of the list. A heavy animal will have extra fat surrounding its heart, putting more strain on that vital organ and making it work harder. Always keep your animal on the lean side.
Exercise your pet regularly
Pay attention to diet and exercise (words of advice we humans hear frequently!). An advantage to owning a dog is that it needs to go outside several times a day. Turn at least one of these outdoor visits into a long walk; you’re not only helping your dog maintain health by strengthening its heart muscle, but you’re also doing the same for yourself. Off-leash exercise in a safe area is an excellent way for dogs to burn off energy, and they’ll return home worn out and happy.
Your cat may need more encouragement to get up and frolic around. It might enjoy chasing little toy “mice,” batting at a fluffy toy dangling at the end of a string, or rolling around with a bit of catnip.
Feed pets a healthy diet
When choosing food for your dog or cat, look for locally sourced ingredients and avoid byproducts of meat, poultry, or grain. Quality dog food will show animal protein at the top of the ingredient list; the protein should be named (chicken, beef, or lamb, for example) rather than shown as “meat.”
Avoid any cat food that lists flour, corn, or wheat products in the first five ingredients, and make sure it contains taurine, an amino acid essential for cats.
Dr. Sheryl Bourque, a holistic veterinarian in Cloverdale, BC, recommends feeding dogs and cats a whole food, or raw food, diet. “Raw diets,” she explains, “contain live enzymes and amino acids that can help prevent disease and are good building blocks for a healthy life.”
Bourque also recommends a good probiotic for digestive health and support for the immune system, as well as omega-3 fatty acid, which is beneficial for your pet’s skin while it promotes good heart health. She adds that coenzyme Q10 can also be used to promote an animal’s heart health.
Scrap the table scraps
Avoid giving your pet table scraps. A pair of pleading eyes at dinnertime might be hard to resist, but you’re actually doing an act of kindness by refusing to fall for such antics. If you feed your pet a quality, well-balanced diet, human treats will disrupt that balance and encourage unwanted begging behaviour.
Keeping your pet’s teeth clean and healthy is another important way to maintain optimal health and prevent heart problems. Bacteria found in decayed teeth may travel through the bloodstream and settle in the heart valves, causing substantial damage.
Your veterinarian may suggest routine dental cleanings in the office, but you should also brush your pet’s teeth daily, using a toothbrush and toothpaste specially formulated for pets. (Do not use toothpaste made for human teeth; sodium fluoride can be very toxic, especially for dogs.)
Heart health supplements
You may want to discuss with your veterinarian natural approaches that can help support your pet’s heart. Many veterinarians recommend supplementing your animal’s diet with carnitine, an amino acid the body uses to turn fat into energy.
Vitamin E, which acts as an antioxidant, can protect against cell damage and heart problems. Hawthorn berry is another recommended heart tonic, especially for older dogs and when used in small doses over an extended period. It helps increase circulation, moving nutrients and oxygen throughout the body while regulating blood pressure. Check with a holistic veterinarian before administering herbs and supplements to your pet, especially if your pet is on medication or other supplements.
February is Heart Month, a time to focus on keeping our own hearts healthy. So perhaps it’s a fitting time to give some extra thought to helping your companion animal’s heart (who, after all, has found the key to your inner heart). You’ll both feel better for it.
Symptoms of heart disease
Many symptoms of heart disease are the same for dogs as well as cats, although cats are better at masking pain or discomfort. Behavioural changes to watch out for include
Cats may develop the inability to walk normally on their hind legs, a sign of a blood clot lodged in the heart. Cats with heart disease may vomit, while dogs do not. Any of these signs warrant a visit to your veterinarian. Younger, healthy animals should get a yearly exam, while older pets should be seen twice a year.