Heart Healthy for the Senior Pet

March 13, 2023

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By Dr. Elizabeth DeLomba, DVM MBA

The percentage of senior pets in the population is increasing. This may be due to a number of factors, including advances in veterinary care and nutrition. As a result, veterinary professionals are dealing with an increasing number of issues that arise in our aging patient population. One of the most common signs that we encounter, especially in small breed dogs, is a heart murmur. In many cases, this is due to mitral valve disease and when first diagnosed — in most patients — is something we monitor and wait to initiate treatment until heart enlargement and muscular dysfunction get to a point where prescription medications are necessary for good quality of life. Mitral valvular disease has been linked with oxidative stress as well as inflammation. To help alleviate this oxidative stress and support the heart muscle and cardiovascular system, heart supplements may be a good choice for your patient.

When choosing a supplement for heart health, there are a number of factors to consider. Is the form palatable and readily accepted? Is the client amenable to offering a supplement? Is it from a reliable manufacturer where quality control and truth in labeling are important? Once all of these factors are considered, look for supplement formulas that include ingredients that have been shown to be helpful in supporting the heart and cardiovascular system.

Most of these ingredients are likely familiar to you, but a few may be less common. Familiar ingredient examples include the amino acids Taurine and Carnitine. These have been utilized to help support the heart muscle for many years. There are additional compounds which are useful for supporting the senior heart, but may be less recognizable. Below are some of these ingredients and how they are thought to contribute to heart health:

  1. Coenzyme Q10 – (CoQ10) is a cofactor for ATP production in mitochondria providing energy to the cardiac muscle. It is also an antioxidant. CoQ10 may improve cardiac metabolism, making it more efficient. It also helps to support tissue oxygenation.  There is a tendency for CoQ10 to decrease with age, and since there is more CoQ10 in heart muscle than any other muscle, exogenous administration may be helpful.
  2. Berberine – This compound was studied in dogs with heart failure and was shown to increase cardiac output and decrease systemic vascular resistance. It has also been shown to support normal heart rhythms.  
  3. Hawthorn – This is a flavonoid antioxidant which is rich in procyanidins. It has been shown to increase contractility of the heart muscle. This compound does take several weeks to achieve its optimal effectiveness, however it also improves circulation, decreases peripheral vascular resistance and may improve oxygen usage by heart tissue. Hawthorn also supports normal heart rhythms.
  4. DMG N,N-Dimethylglycine improves muscle metabolism. It has antioxidant and supports normal inflammatory response, reduces lactic acid buildup, supports oxygenation of tissues, and provides methyl groups for the synthesis for many important molecules in the body, including SAMe and glutathione.
  5. Vitamin E In dogs with heart issues the tissues have been shown to have lower levels of vitamin E. This is likely due to high utilization to help offset oxidative stress. It has also been shown to reduce blood pressure and help with tissue repair.
  6. Magnesium Deficiencies in magnesium are associated with higher blood pressure and irregular heartbeat as well as poor contractility. Magnesium supports heart health by helping to maintain muscular tone and is a cofactor in the regulation of electrical activity of the cardiac muscle. It also helps to maintain the integrity of the vascular walls.

Studies have shown that owners are interested in adding supplements to your clinical recommendations. They know the value of supplementation and are willing to add these supportive ingredients. Integration of supplements is easily achieved when the supplement is in a simple-to-administer form that both owner and pet find acceptable. One way to enhance compliance with your recommendations is to select Supplements that are chewable and come in palatable flavors.

In order to ensure that patients are getting a quality supplement, it is critical to select one from a reputable manufacturer. This reassures both the veterinary staff as well as the client that what is on the label is in the bottle. This trust is key to successful integration of your recommendations. It is also important to note that every pet is different and supplement formulations are best based on your patient’s individual needs and medical history. Adding supplements to help manage heart health concerns is part of a comprehensive multi-modal treatment plan that helps to enhance patient cardiac health and wellbeing and quality of life.

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