Heart disease is, unfortunately, frequently diagnosed in both dogs and cats. Though there are many different types of heart disease, the end result of all of them is congestive heart failure, in which the heart fails to be able to pump blood effectively and efficiently, causing fluids to build up in the lungs and other body tissues.
Dietary management is an important part of treating heart disease. Medications may still be necessary to control the symptoms seen with congestive heart failure, but diet can be a helpful complementary measure.
Taurine is one of the elements in the diet that is important in managing heart health. It is an amino acid that, when deficient in the diet, can actually cause a specific form of heart disease known as dilated cardiomyopathy, particularly in cats. In cases of heart disease caused by taurine deficiency, the supplementation of taurine to the diet can actually help resolve the symptoms of heart disease. Taurine is frequently added to the diet of animals with heart disease.
L-carnitine is another amino acid that is important in the maintenance of heart health and function. It is especially important as a source of energy for muscles. L-carnitine is frequently added as a supplement in the diet of pets with heart disease to provide an effective source of energy for the heart muscle.
Blood pressure is another concern in pets with heart disease. Though dogs and cats very seldom develop primary hypertension (high blood pressure), secondary hypertension as a result of heart disease is common and can make the symptoms of heart disease even more severe, if not controlled. As a result, a diet with restricted sodium levels is often recommended. This is not unlike the recommendation for a low-sodium diet for people with high blood pressure.
Many animals suffering from heart disease receive diuretics such as furosemide as part of their treatment. While necessary to control the fluid buildup caused by congestive heart failure, these medications can also cause excess loss of essential nutrients such as B vitamins and magnesium. To counteract these losses, these nutrients are often added to heart diets at increased levels.
As with any animal, whether healthy or ill, the most important aspect of feeding is that the diet is balanced and complete for the animal in question. Each animal must be evaluated individually and a proper diet chosen as a result of that evaluation. A diet that works well for one pet may not be the right answer for another pet.
Dr. Lorie Huston