Important Nutrients for Pets with Heart Disease

Nutritional deficiencies are now uncommon in dogs and cats unless owners are feeding a nutritionally unbalanced diet. If your animal is eating a homemade, raw or vegetarian diet, or a diet made by a small company, please let your cardiologist know this could be important in the diagnosis or treatment of your pet.

Even if your pet doesn't have a specific nutritional deficiency, increasing the levels of certain nutrients may have benefits in the treatment of heart disease. Nutrients that may need to be supplemented are described below. It is important to keep in mind that dietary supplements have little regulation so quality control can be a big problem. The Cummings School recommends using dietary supplements that bear the logo of the United States Pharmacopeia Dietary Supplement Verification Program (DSVP), which tests human dietary supplements for ingredients, concentrations, dissolvability and contaminants. Another good resource is ConsumerLab.com, which performs independent testing of dietary supplements primarily for human supplements but also for pet products as well.

Taurine

Taurine is an amino acid which, if deficient, can cause a specific heart disease called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in cats. Complete and balanced commercial cat foods have enough taurine but diets that are not complete and balanced (labeled as for intermittent or supplemental use only), vegetarian diets or homemade diets can be too low in this nutrient. If your cat is diagnosed with DCM, the cardiologists will usually test their blood taurine level to see if they are deficient and prescribe supplements to help treat the disease.

Dogs, unlike cats, are not thought to require taurine in the diet. However, certain breeds (Cocker spaniels, Newfoundlands, St. Bernards, English setters, Labrador and Golden retrievers) may require some in the diet to avoid a deficiency. Lamb and rice diets, very low protein, and high fiber diets in these predisposed breeds may make it more likely for them to develop taurine deficiency. Dogs of these predisposed breeds that develop DCM may have their blood tested for taurine levels. Most dogs with DCM do not have taurine deficiency but when levels are low then taurine supplementation can help in the management of heart failure.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil)

Certain types of fatty acids present in fish oil (called omega-3 fatty acids) have been shown have a positive effect in dogs with heart disease. Omega-3 fatty acids do not help to prevent heart disease as they do in people. This is because in people, omega-3 fatty acids have a beneficial effect in coronary artery disease, which does not occur in dogs and cats. In pets with heart disease, fish oil is recommended for dogs and cats who have reduced or altered appetite or any muscle loss (cachexia). Omega-3 supplements can also be used (in addition to appropriate medication) in the treatment of dogs with abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias).

Fish oil may be purchased over-the-counter at almost all human pharmacies but dose and quality of the products vary widely. The Cummings School generally recommends a one gram fish oil capsule that contains 180mg of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 120mg of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The quality control of the individual product should be checked to ensure your pet is getting the right amount and is not getting unwanted nutrients or contaminants. Various ways to check quality control of dietary supplements are mentioned above.

With capsules of this size most dogs and cats can be given one capsule per 10 pounds of body weight. Fish oil is relatively safe but if your pet has a bleeding disorder or is already eating a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids, supplementation should be carefully considered with your veterinarian. Fish oil supplements should contain vitamin E as an antioxidant, but other nutrients should not be included. Cod liver oil and flax seed oil should not be used as sources of omega-3 fatty acids in dogs and cats.