Holistic Help For A “Broken” Heart

by Teresa Garden, DVM

Heart disease is common among dogs and cats. It may be congenital or acquired later in life. Cardiac disease may present as valvular insufficiency, endocarditis, cardiomyopathy, or even congestive heart failure. Clinical signs may be as subtle as a pet that does not move or play as much as normal. More overt symptoms are coughing, exercise intolerance, excessive panting, cyanosis, or labored breathing due to fluid accumulation in the thoracic or abdominal cavities.

Your veterinarian can diagnose cardiac disease based on history, physical exam, thoracic radiographs, and blood pressure readings. There is a relatively new blood test, cardiopet pro BNP, that alerts us to excessive stretch and stress on the myocardium. A positive test means clinical heart disease is likely. At this point, an echocardiogram is indicated in order to determine the exact type of cardiac disease as well as severity and prognosis.
There are many treatment options available to help manage the various types of heart disease. In moderate or severe forms of disease western medicines may be employed.

Conventional drug therapy consists of diuretics to reduce excess fluid accumulation, ace-inhibitors to help vasodilation and decrease high blood pressure, and strengthening agents to help the myocardium function more efficiently. These drugs can be vital to manage heart failure. At Animal Health & Healing we firmly believe an integrative approach is best for overall success of treatment. Whether heart disease is mild, moderate, or severe holistic medicine can help to slow the progression of disease, increase quality of life, and perhaps decrease dosages of western medicines.

A holistic approach to heart disease incorporates diet, exercise, and heart-healthy supplements consisting of herbs, antioxidants, and fish oils. Diet is paramount. A healthy natural diet should be composed of whole foods such as organic meats and vegetables, organ meats such as heart and liver, and be low in salt. Balanced home-made diets meet these criteria and pets find them very tasty too. If our patients are overweight, we will encourage a slow weight loss program using diet and careful exercise to relieve excess burden on the heart.

Various herbs are often used to strengthen the cardiovascular system. Hawthorne berry is the most frequently recommended herbal remedy for the heart. Hawthorne can strengthen and repair the heart muscle and lower blood pressure. Dan Shen increases blood circulation and lowers cholesterol. Zizziphus is a tonic for the heart, detoxifies the blood, and decreases stress and weakness associated with heart disease. Siberian Ginseng can counteract weakness, fatigue and declining stamina. Grape seed extract has been shown to decrease vascular constriction, reverse arteriosclerosis, lower cholesterol and prevent damage to the lining of the arteries.

In addition to herbs, antioxidants, amino acids, and fish oils are integral supplements for optimal heart health. Vitamin E has been shown to prevent cardiovascular disease and slow the rate of heart disease. It strengthens heart muscle and reduces progression of coronary artery disease. Co-Enzyme Q 10 is cardioprotective by reducing the impact of hypoxia upon the heart. The levels of Co Q 10 in the body decrease with age so supplementing older pets can be important. Supplementation with selenium may help prevent hypoxia, cardiomyopathy, and vasoconstriction. Magnesium is a vital mineral for maintaining normal heart rhythm, valve function, and protects against hypoxia.

The amino acids taurine and carnitine are essential cofactors in restoring and maintaining cardiac health at the cellular level. Taurine strengthens heart muscle and prevents the loss of potassium from the heart. This, in turn, can prevent cardiac arrhythmias.

Carnitine is effective in treating cardiovascular disease in both small and large animals. Natural fish oils are cardioprotective in both humans and small animals. These oils contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the form of EPA and DHA. Not only are they beneficial to the heart, but they also protect renal function and decrease inflammation throughout the body.

It is of vital importance to establish a close relationship with your veterinarian to determine the best course of treatment for your pet. Treatment protocols, whether holistic or conventional or both, must be individualized since heart disease varies in its clinical presentation and prognosis. Once treatment is instituted, you should pay close attention to your pet’s energy level and exercise tolerance. Watch closely for coughing, panting, and cyanosis. Your veterinarian will need to monitor your pet’s progress with regular exams, blood tests, radiographs, and blood pressure checks.

The outcome of heart disease varies from case to case due to numerous variables. Some pets can be managed successfully for years. Some will only live a few months. My own little dog, Pricilla, was afflicted with a heart murmur for years. She did quite well with a natural diet and heart-healthy supplements. Then, right after the passing of my other dog Stevie, Pricilla went into severe congestive heart failure. In spite of the best treatment veterinary medicine could offer, Pricilla died of congestive heart failure just 10 weeks after we had lost Stevie. Needless to say, my own heart was broken at that point. But, like animal lovers everywhere, I feel blessed to have known the love, companionship, and joy my pets have given me. And my new little dog “Baby Love” Garden has filled the void in my broken heart with much love, laughter, and happiness.

Dr. Teresa Garden is chief veterinarian/owner of Animal Health & Healing, a full-service holistic and conventional veterinary practice in the Maplewood/Richmond Heights area.
AnimalHealthandHealing.com; phone: 314-781-1738.