You love your dog, and you want them to be as healthy as possible. That’s why you’re researching how to support dog heart health. You know that a healthy heart supports a long and healthy life. There are many ways to support heart health for dogs including giving them a good diet and plenty of nutrition, taking them out for regular exercise, and making sure you’re both visiting the vet regularly. Thinking about your dog getting sick can be scary, which makes sense because they are the best dog in the world. Thankfully, there is plenty of common sense and fun ways to support your dog’s heart health. In this article, we’ll discuss how your dog’s cardiovascular system works, ways to support heart health, and signs of heart disease in dogs.
What You Need to Know About Dog Heart Health
Your dog’s heart is part of its cardiovascular system, which is responsible for pumping blood through the body. The other organs of the cardiovascular system are the blood vessels. These include arteries for taking blood away from the heart, veins for bringing it back to the heart, and capillaries, which are small blood vessels, for dispersing blood to organs and tissues. The cardiovascular system works closely with the pulmonary (lungs) system. The heart pumps blood to the lungs so it can be oxygenated before circulating through the body. Your dog’s heart is located between its lungs in its chest, and it spans the space between the 3rd and 6th ribs. The heart muscle pumps continuously and is made up of four chambers. The right atrium collects blood from veins that have already been through the body and deposited its oxygen. When it squeezes, the right atrium pumps this low-oxygen blood to the right ventricle. This ventricle sends the used blood to the pulmonary artery, which takes the blood to the lungs. There the blood absorbs oxygen and releases carbon dioxide and is sent back to the heart. The high oxygen blood arrives in the left atrium, before being sent out to the rest of the body via the left ventricle.
Your dog’s heart health is supported by good nutrition, exercise, rest, and regular veterinary check-ups. While genetics can play a role in heart health for dogs, all of these other factors are more within your control. Even if your dog has heart disease, these lifestyle factors will still make a difference in its health.
You can support your dog’s heart health with good nutrition from food and supplements.
Choose a high-quality, high-protein dog food that contains quality protein like meat or eggs as the first three ingredients. This does not mean grain-free. Some grain, especially whole grains, is healthy for dogs. Dogs are not the pure carnivores that cats are, and in fact, have a digestive tract that’s similar to ours. Dogs can benefit from eating certain fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, just like us humans. Choose dog food with high-quality ingredients. The ingredients label should be easy to read and contain mostly food words. Look closely for ingredient splitting, which is when a cheap, main ingredient like corn, is disguised as being split into different parts. Corn becomes “cornmeal”, “yellow cornmeal” and “corn gluten.”. This allows the corn ingredients to be listed further down on the ingredient label, disguising the true percentage of the food they make up. In short, cheap commercial dog foods don’t provide high quality, or often even adequate nutrition for dogs. A healthful diet supports dog heart health and health overall.
Many foods support heart health for dogs. These foods make good treats if your dog likes them. Try a few and see what your dog likes. It may take trying the food more than once for your dog to decide they like blueberries or tomatoes. But, with their health benefits, it’s worth trying. Here are a few heart-healthy foods to try giving your pup.
- Fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, and sardines. These will likely not be a hard sell, even for the pickiest of pups. These rich sources of EFA’s may work to reduce inflammation in your dog’s body, including its heart. If you don’t want to deal with the mess and stink of opening a can of fish, there are many freeze-dried fish snacks available commercially, though you may need to look in the cat section.
- Watermelon and tomatoes are hydrating and contain many vitamins and minerals. They also contain lycopene, which is a powerful antioxidant. Don’t let dogs eat watermelon seeds.
- If you can get your dog to eat them, green leafy vegetables are packed full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Examples of leafy green vegetables are spinach, kale, collard greens, and swiss chard. Be sure to serve these greens steamed and pureed to your dog.
- Whole grains like brown rice, whole oats, barley, buckwheat, and quinoa. These grains are rich in minerals like magnesium and manganese. Magnesium is important for muscle function.
- Berries are potent sources of antioxidants, in addition to being full of vitamins and minerals. Blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries make easy treats for adventurous dogs.
- On the less easy side of the spectrum we have organ meats, specifically hearts from cows, ducks, or chickens. You can serve the organs to your dog raw (taking proper sanitary precautions, like washing hands, prep surfaces, and your dog’s food bowl) or lightly cooked.
Nutritional supplements are ways to give your pup an extra nutritional boost that offers health benefits. These are supposed to supplement an already healthy diet. In many cases, nutritional supplements are simple concentrated food sources. Good fats, like essential fatty acids (EFAs), are essential for heart health in dogs. And, EFA omega-3 is standard care for dogs who have developed heart disease. Fish oil is a good source of omega-3 EFAs and many dogs enjoy the taste. Hemp seed oil is another great source of omega-3 EFA’s and omega-6 EFA’s along with protein, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. A great way to boost your dog’s nutrition and antioxidant intake is with a greens or superfood supplement. These supplements contain concentrated amounts of different health foods and are great for dogs who won’t eat blueberries or kale on their own. Hemp is good for your dog’s heart in more than one way. Hemp oil, or CBD oil, made from the whole plant contains CBD, or cannabidiol, other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. These plant compounds have powerful health benefits for your dog’s heart. Hemp CBD oil promotes heart function by supporting a normal heartbeat. CBD also helps your dog’s heart and blood vessels work properly. Pet Releaf makes a USDA Organic Hemp Oil that comes in various concentrations for different-sized dogs. They also bake a line of Edibites, which are CBD and herbal soft chews, or “treats”. They aren’t treats, but with flavors like peppered bacon, your dog won’t believe you. Edibites also come in a size for large dogs.
A fit dog has a healthy cardiovascular system. Even if your dog is at a healthy weight, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are fit. Fitness requires regular physical activity that challenges the heart, lungs, muscles, and bones. Exercising your dog daily is a must for overall health. Muscles need to be worked to stay strong and grow stronger. Your dog’s heart is a muscle and regular exercise supports heart health for dogs. Take your dog’s walks to the next level with hiking. Hiking requires more physical exertion than walking down a city or residential street, which increases your heart rate and your dog’s at the same time. Swimming is a great exercise for dogs since it works most of their muscle groups simultaneously. Just make sure you check the water quality of local bodies of water to prevent your dog from being exposed to bacteria or pollutants. Taking your dog to an agility course, or setting one up in your back yard is a wonderful way to exercise their body and mind. There are many DIY agility courses online, from snap-together sets to complete build-it-from-scratch instructions.
Veterinary Exams and Checkups
Regular veterinary checkups support heart health in dogs. At these appointments, your vet will listen to your dog’s heart and will be able to hear if anything is amiss. If there is, then treatment can start sooner rather than later. If going to the vet stresses your dog (and you) out, try a calming vest or pheromones to help your dog be more relaxed.
Included in this category are regular dental cleanings. Maintaining your dog’s oral health through consistent brushing or dental sprays and dental cleanings keeps their mouth healthy and supports their overall health. The bacteria generated by gum disease can travel through the body and hurt your dog’s heart. The spread of bacteria is called bacteremia and it can damage other organs like the liver and kidneys as well. Taking care of your dog’s oral health will improve their overall health and longevity as well as protect their heart health. While it may be difficult to start brushing your dog’s teeth regularly (daily to twice a week), there are many creative tools like rubber finger brushes and chicken-flavored toothpaste that can make the process easier. There are also products like dental sprays and water additives that support your dog’s oral health.
Watch Out for Heart Disease Symptoms
Heart disease in dogs can develop slowly over time. Be on the lookout for the following symptoms.
- Dry coughing after exercise, or that gets worse at night.
- Restricted breathing, or shortness of breath.
- Poor sleep with physical restlessness.
- Fainting, or fainting that looks like a seizure.
- Fluid build-up causing a pot-bellied appearance.
- Becoming more easily fatigued.
- Very quick weight loss over 2-3 weeks.
Be sure to call your vet if you notice one or more of these symptoms.