Cardiac Care for Pets: How to Keep Little Hearts Humming

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by Dr. Shawn Messonnier

Symptoms that suggest a dog or cat’s heart is not pumping effectively include coughing and fatigue from light exercise. Before the signs are evident, it is far better to check for heart disease during regular twice-yearly visits to the veterinarian. Using a stethoscope, a skilled doctor can pick up telltale heart murmurs during the examination. 

A fairly common problem with cats, heart disease tends to occur as cardiomyopathy, an issue with the heart muscle. In most dogs, where cardiomyopathy is rare, it usually involves damaged heart valves, resulting in “leaks” that allow blood to flow in both directions.

Upon an initial diagnosis of heart disease, one of two mistakes in treatment routinely occur: Either a doctor prescribes strong cardiac medications to “prevent” heart failure from happening (even though no medication has been shown to prevent heart failure), or he takes a wait-and-see approach, only intervening when the disease progresses to irreversible heart failure.

The better approach is to do further testing and evaluation at the first sign of a murmur, including chest X-rays, an electrocardiogram (EKG) and a cardiac ultrasound to classify the stage of the disease and determine if conventional medications can help. Follow-up visits every six months allow the doctor to identify the point at which heart disease has progressed toward impending heart failure.

In general, pets with either a diseased or failing heart can benefit from supplements. Individual regimens vary, based on the nature of the patient’s case.

Omega-3

Fish oil contains beneficial docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids. The principle metabolites derived from the metabolism of EPA and DHA tend to be anti-inflammatory.

Contrariwise, omega-6 fatty acids, which are found in warm-weather vegetable oils, produce pro-inflammatory mediators. Because omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids compete with each other to be converted to active metabolites (pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory) in the body, decreasing the intake of omega-6 fatty acids and/ or increasing dietary omega-3 fatty acid levels, available through fish oil, is generally considered beneficial. The differing numbers identifying omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids simply refer to where the carbon-carbon double bonds are positioned in the molecules.

Supplementing with fish oil may also reduce the occurrence of atherosclerosis, thrombosis, coronary heart disease, arrhythmias, heart failure and sudden cardiac death by decreasing inflammation throughout the body, including in the heart.

Coenzyme Q-10

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), also known as ubiquinol or ubiquinone, is a naturally occurring antioxidant synthesized in most tissues in the body. The highest concentrations are in the heart, kidneys, liver and pancreas. In the diet, CoQ10 is found in foods such as organ meats, poultry, fish, meat, nuts, soybean oil, fruits, vegetables, eggs and dairy products.

The Professional’s Handbook of Complementary & Alternative Medicines explains that CoQ10 is used in electron transport in mitochondria—small organelles inside cells that convert carbohydrates and fats into energy. It reports that studies in people with hypertension showed a reduction in systolic blood pressure through CoQ10 supplementation. Benefits of such therapy studied in people with a heart that has failed in its pumping ability showed increased improved heart function and proper dilation of the blood vessels for improved circulation. It is proving to be one of the best nutrients to help an ailing heart.

Hawthorn

The herb hawthorn is highly regarded for its suitability in the treatment of heart disease due to its flavonoid and other antioxidant content. It provides several beneficial effects for the heart—helping to maintain a normal heart rhythm with decreased risk of arrhythmias; bolstering the force of heart muscle contraction; increasing coronary blood flow; and decreasing the organ’s energy demands. It acts like angiotensin-1-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors such as the medicine Enalapril, used to help regulate blood pressure and reduce the workload of a failing heart.

While other therapies can be used to help pet heart patients, these three are a sound starting point. In some cases, they may be suitable instead of medications that can cause side effects to the kidney and liver, or at least allow for smaller doses. Natural remedies provide a gentler alternative.

Shawn Messonnier, a doctor of veterinary medicine practicing in Plano, Texas, is the award-winning author of The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats and Unexpected Miracles: Hope and Holistic Healing for Pets. For more information, visit PetCareNaturally.com.

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