Common Health Problems affecting Dogs and Cats

Veterinary advice from John Burns BVMS MRCVS

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Nutrition plays an important role in managing dogs with heart disease. Some supplementation may also prove beneficial.

In order for the heart to be as full of blood as possible when it pumps, the body tries to conserve fluid by signalling to the kidneys to retain water and sodium. This is no real solution because the heart still pumps inefficiently.

Eventually, the conservation of fluid becomes counterproductive. This causes swelling (oedema), in the lungs or liver. This is congestive heart failure.

Many dogs with heart failure can be managed successfully with medication and proper diet. Diet is used to help reduce any swelling and anti-oxidant supplementation may provide vital nutrients needed to maintain a healthy heart.

Dogs with heart disease are given a low-sodium diet, just as humans are. Salt can increase fluid retention, making the heart work harder. Decreasing the salt content of the diet reduces the workload of the heart, which is already working to capacity.

Most commercial dog foods are high in salt. This makes the diets tasty but can be fatal for heart disease.


For any dog suffering with heart disease is to start a low-sodium diet. It may take several weeks to convert your dog to a diet low in sodium.

Provide fresh water at all times. Distilled water is the best. The use of water softeners should be discouraged as they add sodium to the water in exchange for calcium.


On your vete recommendation, give medication to help the heart beat more efficiently and decrease the amounts of fluids collecting in the body.


Ensure the dog maintains an appropriate weight. Animals that are overweight are more likely to have further impaired heart and lung function.

Dogs fed a low salt diet will initially eat less if they are usually used to eating a high salt commercial diet. This may result in a thin dog or a dog which will initially loose weight. If the dog is already overweight the weight loss is a good thing.


Supplementation of the diet may help the heart to function optimally.

One nutrient with specific actions is L-carnitine, a vitamin-like amino acid. It is an essential amino acid which improves the heart muscles.

Dogs have more difficulty than any other species in conserving L-carnitine. Much of it is excreted in the urine and is poorly reabsorbed by the dogs kidney. Carnitine is therefore an important supplement for any dog with dilated cardiomyopathy especially Boxers but can also be for Cocker spaniels, Dobermans and Great Danes.

Carnitine is found naturally in meat but this provides only a fraction of the amount needed to treat this condition.

Carnitine can also be synthesized in the liver from the amino acids methionine and lysine if sufficient ascorbic acid, niacin, pyridoxine and iron are present.

Taurine supplementation is also important in dogs with cardiomyopathy, especially Cocker Spaniels.
Anti-oxidants, especially beta-carotene (or vitamin A), vitamin E and Vitamin C are also important for dogs with heart disease. These substances require micronutrients to be effective, including zinc, copper, manganese, iron and selenium.

Anti-oxidants help to remove the free radicals that contribute to many degenerative diseases, including heart disease.

Additional nutrients that provide adequate oxygenation of the heart muscles include, coenzyme Q, germanium, dimethylglycine and superoxide dismutase. These are obtained from anti-oxidants, including vegetables.

Advise seeking advice from your veterinary surgeon before using dietary supplements.

Common pet health problems
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John Burns can be contacted at 99 Ferry Road, Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire, Wales, SA17 5EJ -
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