Congestive Heart Failure
It is common for dogs to get slack and leaky heart valves as they get older. (This is not the same as human heart problems due to cholesterol and narrowing of arteries.) It just means that the valves do not slap closed neatly, and a bit of blood leaks through, causing a bit of fluid pressure in the lungs or abdomen, depending on which side of the heart the problem is. This congestive heart failure can be helped a lot by the conventional veterinary drugs, and can extend the dog's active life. Natural therapies can also help, especially in the early stages before drugs are warranted, but also concurrently with them.
Another less common, and more serious and quickly progressing, heart disease is cardiomyopathy. This is the condition requiring a heart transplant for humans, but this is not an option for dogs, unfortunately. The best approach to this condition is to avoid it, which means not over vaccinating your dog, as cardiomyopathy has been shown to be linked to annual or excessive vaccination, especially in certain breeds such as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Great Dane.
It used to be common to assume that Great Danes would live for less than 10 years and die from heart disease, or that the CKCS was genetically prone to dying at a young age with this condition. However, I have seen a couple of generations of both breeds have a tendency to live longer and healthier lives if not vaccinated annually. The best way to go is to vaccinate once at 10 weeks of age with a 10 week start vaccination, then blood test a year later (or while under GA being castrated/spayed) to check for Parvo and Distemper antibodies. You then can blood test every three years to make sure the immunity is still good, and that there is no need to vaccinate.
Research has shown that heart disease is more likely if there is Vitamin E deficiency. This is a vitamin that is not harmful to overdose, and is cheap and easy to give dogs in the form of wheatgerm oil. A teaspoon to a dessertspoon for a small to giant breed, most days on the food, is a useful and harmless supplement.
Another well researched, safe, but not all that cheap, supplement is CoenzymeQ10. This improves aerobic energy production in the mitochondria of each cell in the body, and compensates for the heart not oxygenating the body effectively. Tired heart patients can have heaps more energy in days with this supplement. Give about 20mg to 150mg to a small to giant breed dog, 3 to 7 times a week. This can be bought from a chemist.
The best herb for heart disease, and again very safe, is Hawthorn. It gently helps the contractility of the heart muscle. Give 6 drops to 2ml, depending on dog size, daily. There are other herbs which can be very beneficial, but these need to be dispensed by a practitioner, as dosage has to be tailored to the individual animal.
Dr Clare Middle BVMA CVA Cert1AVH is a qualified holistic veterinarian: www.claremiddle.com