Supplementing for Hearts

When it comes to dog food there tends to be a “one size fits all” attitude. Yet each breed has their unique problems and diets whether they are complete formula, homemade or raw dog foods, may not include supplements that could be helpful in the prevention or treatment of a breed’s particular problem. This article looks at supplements that are thought to have benefits for the heart. 

In a previous article in this issue we looked at research and how bias and media can lead to contrary reports. In one study a vitamin or mineral might be touted as good for the heart and then the results of another study are released which can be completely reverses a finding. 

The Harvard School of Public Health in the USA suggests these guidelines when looking at research studies on vitamin supplements: 

1. What was the dose and how long were the study’s participants on the supplement? Any benefits may not show up if the trial is short because it can take some time for a disease to develop and for the vitamin’s protective effects to emerge. Lower doses may not be as effective as a higher dose to help with a particular problem. 

2. Who was involved in the study and what sort of lifestyles did they have? Supplements are more likely to benefit someone who is lacking in a certain nutrient in their diets and lifestyles can certainly influence who might need a supplement. For example, smokers have a greater need for certain nutrients than those who are non-smokers. 

3. When was the supplement given? Supplements may be more beneficial at certain stages of a disease or condition than during others. For example, folic acid can protect against neural tube defects but only if given in the early stages of a pregnancy. 

4. What was being measured in the study? Studies tend to have a certain narrow focus and may miss out on the broader pictures. For example, a study may be measuring whether a supplement is good for heart disease overall which can cover many aspects of heart disease but may miss that it has a protective effect against a certain condition such as stroke. 

Not included in this list is another criterion that should be looked at – who funded or performed a study may also give some clues as to why the results may differ. If a study was funded by a supplement company, they would obviously want to have a positive result but if a study was funded by those who might have an interest in more traditional medicines such as a drug company would the answers change? 

Most of the benefits related to various supplements tend to be more anecdotal and not necessarily proven in research trials. For example, some years ago, I had a dog who suffered from a ligament problem and my vet recommended glucosamine and chondroitin. There was a significant improvement in the condition after a few months on it however every time I took him off the supplement the problem would re-occur after a couple of months. If he was put back on it there would be an improvement. There have only been 2 studies into glucosamine on dogs; one, which compared glucosamine use to NSAIDs, found little benefit to its use and another showed positive results over time (70 days). Unlike traditional medicines supplements tend to take longer to be effective and instant benefits to supplementation should not be expected. 

Unlike traditional medicines which are often used to treat a disease, supplements are often seen more as preventatives, though in some cases they are thought to be able to reverse or re-build. 

Heart problems are the most serious health issue that will face a Cavalier and the following vitamins and supplements are thought to be of benefit in keeping the heart healthy. 


Magnesium – In a human study of Mitral Valve Prolapse it was found that those with this condition have lower than normal levels of this mineral. Magnesium may help with: 

  • Contraction and relaxation of muscles 
  • Function of certain enzymes in the body 
  • Production and transport of energy 
  • Production of protein 

Potassium – is a mineral essential to health and must be kept in balance with sodium. Unfortunately, commercially prepared dog foods can be heavy in sodium. Diuretics and heart medications can deplete potassium and dogs on heart drugs may need to be supplemented though this can be done naturally with apple cider vinegar or mashed bananas. Potassium may help with: 

  • Preventing strokes 
  • Dehydration 
  • Heart and kidney lesions 
  • Heart arrhythmia 
  • Vitamins 

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) – is an essential nutrient and antioxidant. It may help with: 

  • Boosting the immune system 
  • Preventing free radicals from damaging artery walls 
  • Lowering blood pressure 
  • Preventing cataracts 
  • Speeding healing 
  • Ensuring proper dilation of blood vessels 

B Vitamins (B6, B-12, and Folic Acid) – are a combination of B vitamins which are thought to help with heart health, in fact a deficiency can lead to heart failure in dogs. They may help with: 

  • Reducing levels of homocysteine 
  • Enhancing the immune and nervous systems 
  • Maintaining healthy muscle tone 
  • Promoting cell growth 
  • Lower high blood pressure 

Vitamin E – is a fat-soluble antioxidant. Some recent trials have cast doubts on the effectiveness of this vitamin with respect to certain health issues such as cancer. It may help with: 

  • Protecting cell damage from free radicals 
  • Boosting the immune system 
  • Widening the blood vessels 
  • Preventing blood clots 
  • Protecting the heart against later heart disease 

Amino Acids 

Taurine – this is an amino acid and antioxidant which has been seen to be helpful in keeping hearts healthy. It may help with: 

  • Enhancing the contractile strength of heart muscle 
  • Lowering blood pressure 
  • Preventing the development of atherosclerosis 
  • Regulating heartbeat 
  • Protects normal brain activity 
  • Decreases muscle damage 
  • Improving glucose tolerance 

Carnitine – is another amino acid thought to be of benefit to heart health. It may help with: 

  • Improving symptoms and complications of heart disease and heart failure (chest pain, heart attack, and other) 
  • Preventing fatty buildup especially in the heart, liver, and skeletal muscles 

Arginine – another amino acid. It may help with: 

  • Improving endothelial function and cardiac output 
  • Improves exercise tolerance and decreased dyspnea (shortness of breath) 
  • Quickens repair time of damaged tissue 
  • Decreasing blood pressure 

Other Supplements 

Co-enzyme Q10 – is a fat-soluble ubiquinone compound found in the cells of the body and is required for mitochondrial synthesis and performs a critical function of converting nutrients into energy which is very important for the heart and heart cells. It is also an antioxidant. It may help with: 

  • Protecting cells from oxidation damage 
  • Increasing oxygen utilization 
  • Treating heart related ailments such as arrhythmia, angina, heart attack, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, mitral valve prolapses, atherosclerosis and congestive heart failure 
  • Strengthening the immune system 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids (found in fish oil) – dogs with heart issues tend to have lower concentrations of the Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA in their blood. Omega-3’s may help with: 

  • Decreasing risk of heart disease 
  • Reducing inflammation and improve cardiac cachexia (lean muscle loss/muscle wasting) 
  • Anorexia (loss of appetite) 
  • Arrhythmias 
  • Improving blood flow 
  • Lowering blood pressure 

Before choosing to use supplements, you will need to ensure you are giving the correct dosages for your dog’s size and weight. While adding vitamins and supplements to your dog’s diet may be helpful, overdose can occur. Consultation with a veterinarian who might specialize in holistic and alternative medicine may be helpful to work out the proper doses. There are also some prepared supplement formulas such as Bio-Cardio by Thorne Veterinary Products which contain ingredients such as Vitamin E, selenium, magnesium, potassium, L-Carnitine, L-Taurine, coenzyme Q-10, among others. 

Without a doubt feeding a dog a healthy diet and keeping them exercised to maintain a healthy weight will be one of the best bets to help with their future heart health. 

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