June 2, 2010

Even though our animal companions are not at risk from heart attacks like people, heart disease, heart weakness or enlargement, or congestive heart failure and other circulatory problems are common in aging cats and dogs and can gradually worsen over time.

The heart is actually a muscle, which is made up of four chambers and a series of valves. The role of the heart muscle is to relax and contract, and pump blood through the circulatory system to the lungs (via arteries) throughout the body and back through the heart again, via the veins. Certain breeds are more predisposed to heart disease than others, and the problem occurs when certain parts of the heart stop functioning correctly. The rest of the organ then tries to compensate for this improper function.

The general symptoms of heart disease vary from one individual dog to the next but can include fatigue or weakness, increased panting, reduced stamina or willingness to exercise, lethargy and increased time spent sleeping during the day. Reduced appetite and weight loss as well as a gray tinge to the gums and a distended abdomen are also warning signs that there is a problem with the heart.

A physical exam or diagnostics such as x-ray, ultrasound or more commonly and echocardiogram (ECG) may be used to make a diagnosis of heart disease and to determine exactly what is affecting the heart and circulatory system.

There are a number of things that animal guardians can do as part of a holistic approach, to help to support the long-term heart health of their pets. An appropriate exercise regime is one of the most important factors to address. Lean, active animals are at a generally reduced risk of heart disease than those who are inactive and obese.

Exercise
The heart muscle can atrophy without adequate exercise every day. If your pet is already overweight or not sufficiently active, exercise should be built up very gradually over a period of several months, to avoid injury from over-exertion before an adequate level of fitness has been attained.

Begin with short (10 minutes or so) walks once or twice a day and slowly increase the distance you cover as well as the speed and terrain – steeper inclines can be introduced to increase the intensity of each session. Brisk walking or jogging of at least twenty minutes’ duration, twice every day is a good maintenance level of exercise to work towards. Many dogs need much more of a workout than this to maintain peak physiological health; this depends on your dog’s age, breed and other factors. Discuss an appropriate regime with your vet.

Nutrition
A healthy, well-balanced, varied diet is an important cornerstone to total health. Pets don’t suffer with problems of high (bad) cholesterol like people do, and a diet high in naturally high levels of (preservative-free) animal fat is actually ‘biologically appropriate and not as a general rule problematic for pets. Supplementing the diet with fish oils, which supply essential fatty acids, can help to prevent or reduce the severity of heart disease in pets as well as people.

The amino acid Taurine is vital for heart health. Without it, cats can develop heart disease. Taurine is an essential amino acid for cats (meaning it must be supplied via the diet) but dogs can make their own Taurine. However Taurine supplementation is often recommended by holistic vets for dogs predisposed to or suffering from, heart disease. Taurine is naturally present in meat and fish, especially organs.

Zinc, (found in naturally high levels in beef, turkey and lamb) and magnesium (found in raw bones as well as spinach, millet and pumpkin seeds) are also essential to heart health. Chromium (found in yeast) and selenium (found in oats, turkey and Brazil nuts) are also necessary for a healthy heart.

Sodium is generally restricted in the diets of pets who are suffering from heart disease, but it is a misconception that animals (or people) with this condition should goo 100% sodium-free, because sodium is a mineral that’s essential to life. However a low-sodium diet can help to reduce water retention which is problematic in congestive heart failure, where fluid buildup occurs around the lungs and the chambers of the heart become enlarged.

The antioxidant vitamins A, C and especially E are helpful for over all health and the prevention of heart disease and Co-Q10 is also widely used for the support of heart function and may help to prevent various types of heart disease including cardiomyopathy, enlarged heart and irregular or rapid heart-beat.

Homeopathy for the Heart
Heart disease should never be treated by homeopathy alone but it can be a useful adjunct to other approaches.Calcarea Fluorica, a cell salt, is indicated by homeopaths for weakness of the heart. Calc fluopr helps to restore elasticity to the veins and muscles

Herbs
Hawthorn is the first herb of choice for most cases of heart disease. Hawthorn tincture is safe in large doses and can be used daily. It helps to strengthen the heart muscle and in some cases can actually repair damage to the heart.

Cayenne Pepper is also recommended for heart health, as is ginko, ginger, gotu kola which all help to improve circulation as well as Bilberry which may help to strengthen the capillaries and the Chinese herb fo-ti, which can increase blood flow to the heart and dilates blood vessels.