Treating Heart Disease: Holistic Prevention vs Pharmaceutical Band-aid

As an owner of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and past owner of Doberman Pinschers, I am always on watch for any symptoms of heart disease.

Both breeds are prone to cardiac problems, although not the same type. Cavaliers are genetically prone to mitral valve disease, or MVD, while Dobermans are genetically prone to dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM. Other breeds prone to MVD include Dachshunds, Pekingnese, Pugs, Chihuahuas, Maltese, Yorkies, Papillons, Bichons, and small poodles and terriers. Most breeds susceptible to MVD have an adult body weight of less than 9 kg (20 pounds). DCM tends to be a disease of larger breed dogs, including Boxers, Great Danes, Greyhounds, Irish Wolfhounds, Afghan Hounds, and Saint Bernards. Feline breeds genetically prone to cardiomyopathy include Ragdolls, Maine Coons, Persians, and American Shorthairs.

While there are no proven methods to decrease the risk of heart disease in a breed genetically prone to its development, there are nutritional, herbal, and other therapeutic supplements that may support healthy heart function. Recent studies have shown deficiencies of taurine and carnitine may contribute to development of heart disease in dogs. It has been known for many years that taurine deficiency in cats will lead to dilated cardiomyopathy. Carnitine and taurine are amino acids found in high concentrations in heart muscle. Nutritional sources with high levels of carnitine include red meat (beef) and heart muscle meat of any source. Nutritional sources with high levels of taurine include shellfish such as mussels, scallops, and clams, dark meat poultry, and goat milk. Goat milk also contains GABA (ƴ-aminobutyric acid), a neurotransmitter, with diverse physiologic effects, such as modulation of blood pressure, immune function, insulin sensitivity and stress.

MVD is an inflammatory condition, as evidenced by studies showing increased circulating inflammatory markers in dogs suffering with this disease. Based on this assumption, I have treated my dogs with supplements to support decreased inflammation.

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, heart failure and heart enlargement are related to Heart Qi Deficiency and Blood Stagnation. When designing a diet to support optimum heart function, I include Qi tonics and ingredients to resolve stagnation that keep the blood moving.

How can you proactively treat heart disease?

Typical supplements I recommend for my dogs and my patients (this would apply to cats with cardiomyopathy) include:

  • CoQ10 - antioxidant, recommended doses are 1 mg per pound of body weight. I dose my dogs and patients much higher, at around 5 mg per pound once daily.
  • L-carnitine - 500 mg for small dogs up to 2,000 mg for large dogs daily
  • Taurine (found in Rx Vitamins Feline Essentials and Rx Vitamins Formula HL) - 250 to 750 mg twice daily
  • Hawthorn - increases cardiac muscle contraction strength, found in many herbal formulations of differing strengths
  • Omega 3 fatty acids decrease cardiac inflammation, decrease triglycerides, and decrease muscle wasting. Give 30 mg per pound of body weight daily, along with 1 to 2 IU of vitamin E per pound of body weight
  • Calcium - the diet needs to have adequate calcium, particularly when formulating home prepared diets
  • Selenium - trace mineral that supports cardiac function - found in fish, chicken, beef, and pork
  • Chromium - trace mineral that supports cardiac function - found in broccoli and mushrooms
  • CBD oil - anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety effects; generally recommended dose is 1 mg per 10 pounds body weight 2 to 3 times daily

Nutritional additions for my pets and patients include:

  • Fermented raw goat milk - high in taurine, medium chain triglycerides, and vitamins essential for cardiac function; Yin tonic to decrease inflammation
  • Species-appropriate meat-based diet, preferably raw, that includes heart muscle meat
  • Qi tonic foods - beef, dark meat poultry, rabbit, tripe, pumpkin, squash, sweet potato, and Shiitake mushrooms
  • Foods to resolve stagnation and help eliminate fluid build-up - celery, watermelon, dandelion greens and roots, and parsley
  • Blood tonic foods - egg yolks, sardines

Any pet suffering from degenerative heart disease of any type should be under the care of a veterinary cardiologist. An ultrasound, called an echocardiogram, is the best method to determine stage of heart disease and heart function. Medications are available that will increase longevity and help keep pets comfortable. A diagnosis of heart disease is not an immediate death sentence. Many pets will live for years after diagnosis when given a high quality diet and supplements.

I am NOT a fan of the prescription heart diet foods. Most are made with inferior ingredients that have been highly processed, with synthetic chemical additives. My patients have performed much better when fed real foods that contain the necessary ingredients. For more information on heart disease, see my books From Needles to Natural, Learning Holistic Pet Healing,  and Yin & Yang Nutrition for Dogs, Maximizing Health Using Whole Foods, Not Drugs.

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