It's estimated that one in ten dogs suffer from heart disease. But whether your pit bull has been diagnosed with a heart condition or you're trying to be preemptive because your companion is getting older, there are a number of supplements with proven effectiveness in promoting cardiovascular health.
Herbal Heart Supplements
A number of herbs have the ability to improve heart function. The following three are among the most effective.
- Hawthorn Berry - Hawthorn is an excellent heart tonic with dozens of studies backing up its ability to increase blood flow in the heart, enhance circulation to organs and muscles, lower blood pressure, normalize irregular heartbeats, alleviate difficult breathing, reduce fatigue, and improve exercise tolerance. In Germany, hawthorn is officially recognized as a treatment for heart disease and is commonly prescribed in cases of mild to moderate Congestive Heart Failure. In severe cases of CHF, patients taking hawthorn are often able to reduce their dosage of Digoxin. Since hawthorn can increase the effects of digitalis and similar drugs, it's very important that you check with your vet before supplementing with hawthorn if your pit bull is taking any heart medications. Hawthorn can be given in capsules (look for a product that combines a standardized extract with whole ground berries), brewed into a medicinal tea (infusion), or purchased as a tincture (if you prefer to avoid alcoholic tinctures, Animals' Apawthecary makes a glycerine tincture called Hawthorn Plus).
- Capsules/Powdered Herb - About 100 mg (extract/whole herb combination) per 10 lbs of body weight given twice a day, so a 50 lb pit bull would receive 1000 mg a day.
- Infusion - 1 tbsp (3 tsp) per 20 lbs of body weight 3 times a day.
- Glycerine Tincture - 12-20 drops per 20 lbs pf body weight twice a day.
- Dandelion Leaf - Dandelion is a natural diuretic that can rid the body off excess fluid, making it easier for the heart to pump and circulate blood. It can also replenish the potassium that is typically lost when diuretics are given. Fresh dandelion leaves can be pureed in a food processor or juicer and added to your dog's food. Alternatively, an infusion can be made from dried dandelion leaf, and tinctures are also a good choice.
- Fresh Dandelion Leaves - About 1/4 cup of dandelion leaf puree 1-2 times a day. Can be combined with other natural diuretics such as parsley and celery.
- Infusion - 2 tsp per 10 lbs of body weight 2-3 times a day.
- Glycerine Tincture - 12-20 drops per 20 lbs of body weight twice a day.
- Garlic - The impressive antioxidant profile and the many health benefits of garlic are well documented. Among them is the ability to improve cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure, improving circulation, and thinning the blood. Recent studies indicate that garlic is most effective when freshly crushed and eaten raw. However, more is not better when it comes to garlic due to the risk of Heinz body anemia and excessive blood thinning.
- Fresh Garlic - One crushed clove of garlic a day (smaller cloves for smaller pit bulls, and larger cloves for larger dogs). Can be combined with the pureed dandelion greens.
Amino Acid Heart Supplements
There are three amino acids that are especially important for heart health.
- Taurine - The connection between taurine deficiency and heart failure in cats is long established, but while dogs--unlike cats--are able to synthesize their own taurine, the ability to do so can be compromised in some dogs. And since taurine is not considered an essential amino acid for dogs, commercial dog foods typically do not contain taurine supplements. Moreover, some studies suggest that taurine supplementation may be beneficial in canine heart disease even when the dog is not taurine deficient.
- Taurine Powder or Capsule - Give 500-750 mg twice a day. Taurine is best given on an empty stomach and needs to be combined with vitamin B6--or, better yet, a B-Complex vitamin--to be assimilated effectively. If your pit bull has no heart problems and you are giving taurine for preventive reasons, you can cut the dose in half.
- L-Carnitine - Carnitine deficiency has been linked to Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs, but even when carnitive levels are adequate, supplements have been shown to reduce symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) and increase survival times. While most of these double-blind studies involved humans, it is believed that L-Carnitine supplementation provides similar benefits when given to dogs.
- Free Form L-Carnitine - The therapeutic dose is 1000-2000 mg twice a day, best given on an empty stomach like all amino acid supplements. This means a large pit bull would be getting 4000 mg a day, which is unfortunately not inexpensive. If you are giving L-Carnitine to prevent heart problems, 100-200 mg twice a day is sufficient.
- L-Arginine - Arginine is often recommended in cases of CHF because it can improve endothelial function and blood flow in the heart, thereby increasing exercise tolerance and decreasing shortness of breath.
- Free Form L-Arginine - Unfortunately L-Arginine supplementation is very expensive due to the extremely high recommended therapeutic dose. In canine studies where L-Arginine proved effective, dogs received 100 mg per pound of body weight a day.
Fatty Acid Heart Supplements
There are two essential fatty acids that are extremely beneficial for dogs with heart disease.
- DHA & EPA - Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are omega-3 fatty acids that have many health benefits. Most canine diets--and human diets, for that matter--contain too many omega-6 fatty acids and not enough omega-3 EFAs. Moreover, dogs with heart failure typically have inadequate omega-3 levels. DHA and EPA are important for cardiovascular health, and can help prevent heart disease. The best source of DHA and EPA is fish body oil (liver oil is too high in vitamin A). Since environmental contamination is a concern with fish, it's advisable to purchase a molecularly distilled fish oil product, particularly when administering high therapeutic doses to dogs with heart problems.
- Fish Oil Liquid or Softgels - The therapeutic dose for canine heart disease is 1 gram of fish oil containing 300 mg of combined DHA and EPA per 10 pounds of body weight a day, so a 60 lb pit bull would be receiving 6 grams of fish oil containing 1800 mg DHA/EPA. This amount is best divided into 2-4 daily doses. You may find that your dog enjoys the fish oil so much that you can give the gelcaps as treats. If you are supplementing fish oil to prevent heart problems, 1 gram of fish oil per 20 pounds of body weight is sufficient.
Vitamins & Other Heart Supplements
The most important vitamins and nutraceuticals for cardiovascular health are:
- Coenzyme Q10 - CoQ10 is present in virtually every cell in the body, but the highest concentrations are found in the heart. While most of the research demonstrating the effectiveness of CoQ10 supplementation in cases of Congestive Heart Failure was done on humans, many veterinary cardiologists also recommend CoQ10 for dogs. Moreover, CoQ10 levels decrease with age as well as with certain chronic diseases, such as heart conditions.
- CoQ10 - The therapeutic dose for dogs with heart disease is 60-120 mg twice a day. For prevention, 20-30 mg twice a day is sufficient.
- Vitamin E - Vitamin E is an essential part of any canine diet, but older dogs and those with heart disease can benefit from additional supplementation. Diets high in polyunsaturated fatty acids--such as DHA and EPA--also increase the need for vitamin E. The best vitamin E supplements contain mixed tocopherols.
- Vitamin E Complex - Give 50-80 IU per 10 pounds of body weight. For proper absorption, it's very important that vitamin E is ingested with fat, so giving vitamin E and fish oil together is a good idea. Many dogs enjoy the taste of vitamin E softgels, so you may be able to give those as treats between meals along with the fish oil caps. If your dog won't eat the gelcaps, try a liquid E-Complex supplement (Country Life makes a good one) that is easily added to food.
A general antioxidant formula may also be beneficial, and if diuretics are used, low doses of a B-Complex formula given several times a day can help replenish water-soluble B vitamins.
Always consult your veterinarian before starting your dog on a supplement regimen.