Preventable Heart Disease

Dr. Christy and Dr. Socks attended an all-day Continuing Education series of lectures on the subject of Veterinary Cardiology. Dr. Clarke Atkins, DVM, DACVIM (Internal Medicine, Cardiology) from North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine spent the day with a group of veterinarians in Southeastern Michigan. Dr. Atkins reviewed many diseases, letting us know what is now known as far as diagnosis and treatment of conditions we are familiar with, as well as teaching us new topics on heart disease in dogs and cats. Dr. Atkins is research-based and extensively published. Much of what he discussed has already been published, there are some topics he talked about that are soon to be published as well as subjects that are on the forefront of veterinary medicine. Below are two heart diseases that he discussed that are preventable. We will be brief in our report, just touching on what we can all do to keep our 4-legged friends healthy and happy.

Nutritional Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Currently, veterinarians in research are trying to figure out what is causing some dogs that aren’t breeds of dogs predisposed to Cardiomyopathy (Dobermans, Boxers, etc.) to develop cardiomyopathy because of the diet they are being fed. Veterinarians have been battling the “grain-free” movement for years. The recommendation of Grain-Free (GF) food has been created by sales and marketing from pet food companies. Dogs with food allergies almost always are allergic to a protein source in the food, not grain. Below are some bullet points that were gleaned from Dr. Atkins’ lecture.

● Peas (including all forms that may be on the label) and to a lesser extent legumes and potatoes are thought to be the problem. It is not known whether peas, legumes, and potatoes themselves are the problem, or something in these foods that block essential nutrients, is causing the disease.
● Golden Retrievers are the most common breed affected by nutritional cardiomyopathy. Goldens should not be fed food with peas (or pea products), legumes, or potatoes in the top 4 ingredients.
● Breeds of dogs predisposed to Dilated Cardiomyopathy (Dobermans, Boxers, Great Danes, and Cocker Spaniels) should not be fed these foods
● Breeds of dogs predisposed to Mitral Valve Disease (Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Miniature Poodles, Shih Tzu, Maltese, Chihuahua, Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Schnauzers, Dachshunds, Whippets, and Pomeranians) should not be fed these foods.
● We do not recommend these foods to be fed to any dogs.

Even with changing to a non-grain-free diet, there may be irreversible heart damage.


Heartworm Disease

Heartworm disease, which is transmitted dog-to-dog (and less often dog-to-cat) by mosquitos, causes severe lung disease and heart failure, and can cause other organ damage and death. The build-up of foot-long adult worms in the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of affected pets lead to an increased workload on the heart which causes enlargement of the heart, as well as scarring of the lung tissue. The treatment of heartworm disease is both expensive, and laborious. The Heartworm Protocol developed by the American Heartworm Society lasts 4 months and involves severe exercise restriction, daily oral medication for a majority of the time, as well as a painful injection given deep into the muscle on the side of a dog’s spine on 3 separate occasions. Treatment for heartworm disease is considered “rescue” therapy as there is permanent damage caused by infection.

Heartworm disease can be prevented by an oral or topical medication, given once-a-month. We do recommend year-round administration of heartworm medication, since if the conditions are right for mosquitos, it only takes one bite from an infected mosquito to infect a susceptible dog or cat.

Hopefully, the information above has been helpful. We have tried over the years to educate everyone about nutritional cardiomyopathy and heartworm disease, but thought due to the importance of these diseases, and the ability to avoid them completely, it would be a good reminder for everyone. Please let us know if you have any questions.