A healthy heart is (obviously) a precursor to a healthy body. As the engine that pumps the blood through the body, the heart needs to be in top working order to properly perform its job. Unlike the skeletal muscles (e.g. leg muscles), which can rest, the heart is always working, involuntarily, to keep a body alive.
How common is Heart Disease in Dogs?
In humans, heart disease is a common problem. According to the CDC, 11 % of US adults were diagnosed as having some form of heart disease. Yet heart disease is even more common in dogs than in people. According to WebMD, chronic valvular disease, one form of heart disease, occurs in 20-40% of all dogs by itself.
Even though many heart conditions are congenital, diet can play a role in supporting a healthy heart and reducing the risk of some types of heart disease. Some of the key nutrients (and common food sources) that are required for healthy heart function are provided below.
Key Nutrients for a Healthy Canine Heart
Vitamin A. Among other things, Vitamin A supports a healthy immune system. Deficiencies in Vitamin A can make a body susceptible to infection, and specifically, an increased risk of bacterial infection of the heart valves. Foods high in Vitamin A that are commonly used in dog food recipes include carrots, sweet potatoes, and most dark, leafy green vegetables.
Vitamin C. This powerful antioxidant supports proper heart function. Diets that are deficient in Vitamin C can lead to physical weakness, shortness of breath, rapid heart rates, and rapid respiration, all of which can stress the heart. Vitamin C deficiency can lead to an increased risk of inflammation of the blood vessels and the heart. Foods commonly found in dog food that are high in Vitamin C include berries, broccoli, and kale.
Vitamin E. Another powerful antioxidant, Vitamin E is a scavenger of free radicals and prevents free radical damage in cells. Vitamin E deficiency can lead to heart disease in the form of ventricular endocardial necrosis (death). A study by Freeman, Brown, and Rush reported that lower levels of Vitamin E in the blood were associated with greater severity of heart disease in dogs. Foods that are often included in dog food recipes that are high in Vitamin E include leafy green and cruciferous vegetables such as kale, spinach, and broccoli.
Taurine. Taurine is an amino acid that helps support heart function. Taurine is not an essential amino acid- essential meaning that the body cannot produce it internally and needs food to be the source of the amino acid. Yet, some dogs can become deficient in Taurine and in these cases, there is a linkage to heart disease, specifically to dilated cardiomyopathy. Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease in which the heart chambers enlarge and the walls of the ventricles become thin. The heart muscle weakens and begins to fail. Taurine is present in fish and meats, which are the foundation of any healthy canine diet.