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Nutrition at the heart of the matter – can food help your dog’s heart health?

Dr Jacqueline Boyd

BSc (Hons), MSc, PhD, PGCHE, CHES, FHEA, MRSB

In-house Nutritional Consultant

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The dog is a wonderful creature. Not only are dogs wonderful friends, companions and sometimes working colleagues, they also have the potential to be highly active, performance animals. Indeed, some breeds have been selectively bred over generations for specific abilities such as speed (think the greyhound), herding (the border collie for example), stamina (many gundog breeds) and even strength (the Alaskan malamute).  However, whether your dog is a highly conditioned athlete, or more of a relaxed couch potato, one thing that is critical, is the health of their heart. 

What does the heart do? 

The heart is essentially a muscular pump that pushes blood around the body to provide oxygen and nutrients to areas where they are required. Blood is also essential for assisting the removal of waste products (such as carbon dioxide) from the body, and the rhythmic, regular pumping of the heart is critical for the consistent flow of blood around the body. 

What affects heart health? 

Occasionally, the functioning of the heart can become compromised, and this can affect the overall health and wellbeing of an affected animal. Sadly, some dogs are genetically predisposed to certain heart conditions and if you have a breed with known heart issues, it is well worth investigating health screening tests and opportunities, especially if you are looking for a new puppy, and the Kennel Club supports many such schemes.  

Heart health can also be impacted by how fit and active your dog is, in the same way that our own activity and fitness levels can help our overall heart health and reduce the risks of developing certain conditions. Consistent, regular exercise will help both you and your dog to maintain a trim waistline and support overall health and wellbeing, including that of the heart! 

Can diet affect heart health? 

One important aspect of maintaining a healthy heart, is a diet that carefully balances calorie intake and output to maintain a healthy bodyweight and shape. In this way, combining diet and exercise is key to supporting a healthy heart, so keeping a close eye on your dog’s weight, and minimising the risk of fat being deposited in their body is a simple way to help keep a healthy heart (and indeed body overall!). The Skinner’s range includes diets with different calorie contents to suit different activity levels, so it is worth getting a personalised feeding plan (available on the Skinner’s website) to help keep your dog’s diet aligned with their lifestyle and activity level. 

What about grain free diets and heart health? 

There has been much media coverage recently suggesting a possible link between feeding certain diets and a heart condition called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. At the moment, the exact cause of this condition and it’s potential link is still under much scientific investigation, with many possible reasons for the appearance of this distressing heart condition in some dogs (notably within the US). One nutrient that has been linked with heart conditions in dogs (and indeed in cats!) is taurine and there has been concern that some diets are low in taurine, causing this condition. However, as with many things in biology, it is not quite that simple, and taurine supplementation alone appears not to be a sufficient preventative measure. Indeed, it is worth noting that dogs can make their own taurine if they have enough of the precursor nutrients supplied in their diet, and a well formulated, balanced diet will provide these, in addition to taurine itself, which is found naturally in animal derived products. Many complete dog foods (including the Skinner’s sensitive range) also have added taurine as part of their overall nutrient profile to support overall health and nutritional adequacy. 

What should I do if I am worried about my dog’s heart health? 

If you are concerned in any way about your dog’s health, your first port of call should be your veterinary surgeon for advice, investigation, diagnosis and treatment if necessary. Many dogs live long, happy, healthy lives with well-managed heart conditions. Indeed, one of my first cocker spaniels had a minor heart murmur that never caused her any obvious problems and she was still doing agility and gundog work up to the age of 13!  

However, if you see any of the early signs of heart problems in your dog, that can include abnormal tiredness, weakness, reluctance to exercise, coughing, abnormal panting or even collapsing, seek veterinary advice immediately. Equally, if in consultation with your vet, diet might be a factor in supporting heart health, the friendly and experienced Nutrition Team here at Skinner’s would be delighted to help and advise you. 

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