Your dog doesn't eat bacon for breakfast, and he'll never turn down a game of fetch, so surely he's not at risk for heart disease, right? Actually, nearly 8 million dogs in the United States already have heart disease (that's 10 percent of all pups). Canine heart problems can be congenital, where the defect has been present since birth and exacerbated by age, injury, or diet, or acquired through something like a heartworm infection. As with humans, regular exercise and vet check-ups are essential to staying healthy—and a nutritious diet can be particularly helpful with prevention. Here are some of the heart healthiest ingredients for pups:
Restricting protein used to be advised for dogs facing heart problems, but now we know that it could lead to decreased muscle mass, which can potentially be fatal. Protein is essential for keeping dogs' hearts healthy because it strengthens the muscle. Their diet should consist of at least 25 to 30 percent high-quality, lean protein such as chicken and salmon, according to Dr. Carol Osborne, an integrative veterinarian with the Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic in Ohio.
Just as with humans, too much salt in the diet is no bueno for dogs, especially those who are prone to heart disease. Even if your pup shows no signs, it's best to keep them on a low-sodium diet with less than 100 mg daily, Dr. Osborne says. But most importantly, keep him on a steady diet because sudden spikes in sodium levels in the blood can stress heart function (that means keeping him away from salty human snacks like chips).
Omega-3 fatty acids
These fish oils are essential for an all-around heart-healthy diet for dogs, Dr. Osborne says. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and protect against abnormal heart rhythms. In one study of dogs with heart disease, survival rates improved with omega-3 supplements. Natural sources include cod liver oil (which can be found in some fresh, natural food), sardines, and salmon—or you can use supplements.
Supplementing with taurine, an amino acid, helps with heart function even for healthy dogs, according to Dr. Osborne. Though vets aren't entirely sure of taurine's purpose, they do know that without it, dogs can suffer from an enlarged heart — and certain breeds such as Portuguese Water Dogs and Golden Retrievers are more prone to a deficiency. Taurine can be naturally found in cooked lamb or raw beef liver, or you can take it in supplement form.
Keeping your pup at a healthy weight is a big part of preventing heart problems. "Portion control is essential, and that means no free feeding," Dr. Osborne says. Balancing your dog's diet is important too: at Ollie, we recommend a one to one to one ratio of high-quality meat protein, naturally occurring fats such as cod liver oil, and carbs in the form of nutrient-dense starches, vegetables, and seeds.