The Importance of Diet for Cardiovascular Support in Dogs
Heart disease is almost as common in dogs as it is in humans. Approximately 10% of dogs suffer from some form of heart disease and, as with humans, the likelihood of it increases as our dogs age with dogs over the age of 9 twice as likely to suffer from heart disease.
There’s no single cause of heart disease in dogs. Aging, obesity, breed, and nutrition can all play a role. Heart valve problems, a particular heart health issue, are the most common issue and typically affect small breed dogs that are 5 years or older.
No matter what heart condition your dog has, it’s important to spot the signs early. Since 95% of heart conditions in dogs come on as they age, it’s easier to manage any heart condition if it is diagnosed shortly after it develops. For this reason it is important that simple heart checks are part of routine check-ups by your dog’s vet.
The type of cardiovascular disease suffered by humans and dogs are generally different.
The most prevalent human heart condition is coronary artery disease (CAD), which involves plaque build-up in the arteries (atherosclerosis) that are responsible for bringing blood to the heart. As the layers of plaque grow and harden, less blood flows to the heart.
Coronary artery disease is extremely rare in dogs, so much so that it is not considered a health factor in dogs.
Dogs however are most likely to suffer from one of two forms of heart disease – valve disease or heart muscle disease.
Of the two, the most common form (approximately 80-85% of all heart disease) is a valvular disease, mitral valve disease, a condition male dogs are 1.5 times more likely to be affected by. If the mitral valve ‘wears’ blood destined for the dog’s heart leaks usually causing a heart murmur – this murmur can usually be picked up by a vet using a stethoscope during an examination.
Mitral valve disease (MVD) is associated with alterations in energy metabolism, oxidative stress and inflammation.
Dogs most at risk of valvular disease are small- to medium-size dogs, less than 20 kg. The most susceptible breeds are Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Poodles, Schnauzers, Chihuahuas, and Fox Terriers.
Common symptoms of MVD include:
- A heart murmur (detected by your vet)
- Coughing particularly after lying down or sleeping and often worse at night
- Low energy and slowing down on walks
- Breathing more quickly than usual as well as breathlessness and excessive panting
- Unexplained weight loss
- Collapsing or fainting
The good news is there are steps we can take to reduce the risks of our dogs being affected by the most common canine heart condition, valvular disease. As with us nutrition, weight management and exercise play a significant role in reducing this risk.
Nutrition is a key area for intervention in dogs diagnosed with mitral valve disease.
A 2019 study on mitral valve disease published in BMC Veterinary Research found that a diet that included a cardiac protection blend (CPB) of nutrients containing medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) as an alternative energy source, EPA and DHA from fish oil to reduce inflammation, antioxidants (Vitamin E), and other key nutrients (taurine and DL-methionine) important to heart health and function could slow or prevent MVD progression in dogs.
Bonza includes all the ingredients identified in the Cardiac Protection Blend in this study – MCT (from coconut oil), EPA and DHA from seaweed and seaweed extract, Vitamin E, DL-methionine and Taurine along with a number of other powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant ingredients.
Heart Muscle Disease
The other far less common heart issue is heart muscle disease, of which dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is the most prevalent. DCM is considered a predominantly genetic inherited heart disease.
DCM generally occurs when the heart muscles degenerate and wear thin. This thinning of the muscles decreases the dog’s heart’s ability to contract and pump blood and leads to congestive heart failure (CHF).
Breeds predisposed to DCM include Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Boxers, and Cocker Spaniels. Dietary carnitine deficiency may play a role in some cases of Boxer DCM, and taurine responsive DCM has been identified in Cocker Spaniels.
Dilated cardiomyopathy tends to develop over a period of months and even years before symptoms begin to develop.
Common symptoms of DCM include:
- Low energy
- Exercise intolerance (struggling to keep up on walks)
- Collapse and fainting
- A heart murmur and/or arrhythmia (detected by your vet)
As DCM progresses and the heart starts to fail, more severe symptoms usually develop such as:
- Coughing (especially in the morning)
- Weight loss
- Swollen legs
- Bloated belly (as fluid builds-up due to heart failure)
- Cold legs and ears
Concern was raised by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the USA in July 2018 that grain-free and/or legume rich diets may be a cause of a perceived increase in the rate of DCM. As was to be expected this caused alarm amongst dog owners about their dog’s food and whether they were potentially increasing their dog’s risk of DCM. A lot of disinformation and hyperbole resulted on both sides of the debate.
Fortunately, scientists with no agenda were quick to initiate reviews of the potential causes of this perceived increase in dilated cardiomyopathy.
A significant body of evidence-based research has subsequently found that there is no causal link between grain-free or legume rich diets taurine deficiencies heart health and DCM. (1, 2, 3, 4,) in fact the latest studies, published in 2021/2022, found the opposite was true including meaningful increases in taurine levels in dogs fed plant-based, legume rich food (5, 6)
A study published in the Journal of Animal Science in August 2021 found that supplementing diets with either carnitine, creatine and choline could aid in the treatment of disease that causes metabolic or oxidative stress, including cardiac disease in dogs
Bonza is purposely formulated to include DL-methionine, L-carnitine and taurine (and has naturally high levels of choline) to reduce the risk of dilated cardiomyopathy.