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Dogs have big hearts, figuratively speaking. Their literal hearts may not be as large, but they do need to be kept healthy. Otherwise, our dogs can develop heart conditions, which reduce the effectiveness the organ to pump blood to the rest of the body. Although dogs with heart conditions can still live a happy life with proper nutrition, exercise and medications (if necessary), it's best to prevent the diseases altogether. Here are a few ways to keep your dog's heart healthy and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Exercise is extremely important for your dog's mental and physical health, including his or her heart health. It gets your dog's heart pumping and combats obesity, which is one of the greatest risk factors for developing heart disease. The amount of exercise depends on your dog's age, size and breed but, in general, two 30-minute sessions is recommended. If bad weather isn't allowing for a walk or outside workout, try throwing toys around the house or up and down the stairs.
Nutrition is also extremely important for your dog's heart health (as well as his or her overall health). Make sure your dog is eating a complete and balanced diet, including a range of healthy vitamins and minerals. You can also supplement your dog's diet to make sure he or she is receiving all the proper nutrients.
Pro Tip: A complete and balanced diet will likely include grains, as the FDA recently investigated a potential link between certain grain-free dog foods and heart conditions. The American Kennel Club (AKC) summarized the report with a list of the dog foods involved.
Although heart disease isn't always preventable, heartworm disease is. Heartworm is a serious, potentially fatal health issue caused by worm parasites living in the blood vessels. The presence of parasites leads to inflammation of the blood vessels and lungs, as well as stress to the heart. In advanced infections, the worms can even enter the heart. It's recommended that dogs take heartworm medication all year, typically in a monthly tablet or oral application. In addition, it's recommended that your dog be checked for heartworm once a year at the vet.
Keeping your dog's teeth clean doesn't just help their dental health, it also protects their heart. There is an association between endocarditis and dental disease. This is because extra plaque and tartar build-up in the mouth can settle into the heart. A few ways to prevent build-up are brushing your dog's teeth regularly (daily is best, but a few times a week is sufficient), giving him or her things to chew on, supplementing with dental treats and keeping the water in their bowls fresh.
Make sure you know what to look for when it comes to heart disease, as well as heartworm disease. Being aware of the signs and symptoms can help you catch the condition before it becomes unmanageable. Signs include coughing, exercise intolerance or labored breathing with little activity, lethargy, decreased appetite and a pot-bellied appearance. if you see any of these signs or are concerned, contact your vet as soon as you can.